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Is there lead in my water?

Read more about why lead in water is harmful, whether your property has lead pipes, and what you can do about it.

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Why must lead levels in water be kept low?

Exposure to lead can be harmful to our health, especially for unborn babies and young children. So, it’s important to keep lead levels in drinking water low.

How can lead get into the water?

Water leaving our supply works doesn’t contain lead.

Modern service pipes (made up of the communication and supply pipes that bring water into your property) are made of blue polyethylene. Lead service pipes were phased out and made illegal 50 years ago. Some properties built before 1970 may still have lead pipes in them, or connecting to the water mains. Properties built after 1970 are unlikely to.

Lead can get into drinking water that it has been in contact with for an extended period, such as overnight. The longer water is in contact with lead, the more lead is likely to be in it. If a lead pipe is damaged or flattened (which can happen when driveways and paths are replaced) the amount of lead that can get into the water increases. As well as lead supply pipes, lead can also enter water through lead solder joints, lead-lined tanks or plumbing fittings and taps. Read more about our drinking water standards.

If you need to use lead pipes

You should replace lead pipes as soon as possible, but if you do need to use them, don't drink water that has stood in the pipes for an extended amount of time.

  • First thing in the morning, run the tap for about one minute (instead of wasting water, fill a bowl to water plants).
  • Run the water for a minute if the tap hasn't been turned on all day.
  • Always run the tap before making up bottle feeds for infants. Ensure that the cold kitchen tap is fed directly from the water main.
  • You'll need to run the tap longer if your cold kitchen tap is more than 50 metres from the water mains.
  • As a guide, run your tap an extra 15 seconds for every extra 10 metres to the water main.
  • If you have lead pipes, only use the flushed cold kitchen tap for drinking and cooking. Never use any hot tap as hot water dissolves lead more quickly and is as such more likely to contain greater amounts of lead.

Frequently asked questions about lead pipes

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. If you're concerned that you may have lead plumbing, or would like your drinking water checked for lead, we can come and take a sample, free of charge.

Lead isn’t normally present in raw, untreated water sources (rivers, lakes, reservoirs). Significant concentrations can be found in drinking water if lead service (communication and supply) pipes, or copper pipes with lead solder joints and occasionally domestic water fittings, have been used in the domestic plumbing system.

The maximum Prescribed Concentration or Value (PCV) for lead is 10 microgrammes per litre (10ugPb/l). We must meet a strict standard on the level of lead in drinking water.

The health risks associated with exposure to lead are well known. Lead is a harmful toxic heavy metal; its toxicity most frequently results from ingestion (drinking or eating) or inhalation. 

Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause a metallic taste and symptoms of abdominal pain, sickness, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, and kidney and liver damage.

Long-term exposure may cause headaches, irritability, tiredness, and muscle fatigue. It can also affect brain development in the unborn and children up to 10 years old. Those who are pregnant and young children are therefore more at risk from lead than adults, although lead poisoning in adults can lead to serious illness.

Lead is a cumulative toxin. This means that concentrations of lead within the body, especially in the teeth, bones and some internal organs, can build up over time. It is therefore sensible to ensure that exposures to lead are kept to a minimum.

Read the Public Health England guidance for more information on the effects of lead.

If there is a level of lead in your drinking water (determined by sampling and analysis) it is most likely to be due to the service pipes to your property. Service pipes are the pipes that carry water from the water main in your street to your property. The service pipe is made up of two parts – the communication pipe and the supply pipe.

Southern Water is responsible for the water main in your street and the communication pipe up to, and including, the stopcock at the boundary of your property. The property owner is normally responsible for the supply pipe from the stopcock into the property and all the indoor plumbing. When we replace the communication pipe, we'll also offer to replace 10 metres of supply pipe, free of charge.

When replacing lead plumbing, the permanent solution is to replace all lead pipework with pipes made from safer materials. Remember:

  • Copper and lead pipes should never used together.
  • Lead solder shouldn't be used on copper pipes for drinking water.

If alternative, non-metallic pipework is used, electrical earthing should be checked by a qualified electrician.

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