Water safety is essential in the home as well as in the workplace, to ensure that we do not expose ourselves to water-borne bacteria that can cause fatal diseases. The problem with lead in water systems is that it will allow lead to build up within the body and this can have adverse effects on mental development, and therefore this is especially serious in children. It is a requirement for organisations to actively monitor and regulate the levels of lead within water systems and food. Since the 1970s there has been a concerted effort to regulate levels of lead in water systems, following the realisation that lead can have severe effects on our health.
How can lead get into our water systems?
Although lead can naturally find its way into natural water reserves, in the UK lead should not be present within our public water network. This has only been the case since the 1970s, as before this lead was widely circulated around the environment due to its status as a vital component of everyday life. For example, water pipes were made of lead. Over time, some of this lead disintegrated and dissolved into the water carried within these pipes and was able to reach the individuals drinking the water.
Now, water pipes are strictly banned from being made from lead. However, this does not mean that in some older properties, that water pipes are not still harbouring some lead from decades before. Moreover, in areas of soft water, the likelihood of lead from these old pipes dissolving into the water is high due to the absence of scale protecting the water from the pipes.
How can you protect your organisation's water systems from the possible risk of lead in water?
As previously stated, there are some areas which will be more vulnerable to the effects of lead in water than others. In these areas the responsible water system companies use orthophosphate in the water systems to reduce the buildup and effects of lead within the water.
What ways can be used to identify whether lead is present in your water systems?
The water companies within your area are ultimately the experts, and they will come out to your home or your workplace to test the tap water or water systems there to see if there is any lead present. The water company will know the likelihood of whether lead would be found within your piping or not; if your home or workplace has been modernised since the 1970s as well as the surrounding area, then the likelihood is that lead will not be in your pipes. Water companies will not charge for these services, and it is always best to contact them and carry out a test instead of being sorry.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs if an individual has drunk a significant amount of water which is contaminated with lead over a long period of time and levels of lead have built up within the body, creating health problems. Health effects are significantly worse in children as children's bodies and bones will absorb more lead than an adult due to their growth rate. The symptoms of health problems which are associated with lead poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss due to a significant loss in appetite
- Hearing loss
- Problems and a delay in the mental development of the individual
- High blood pressure
- Muscle pain and joint pain
To avoid any health problems which may occur due to lead being present in water, it is your responsibility within your home and your employer's responsibility at work to ensure water systems are regulated properly. Training and knowledge of the effects of lead in water systems will help you to improve water safety at home and in the workplace.