There has been mention of Lead in Water on social media, but we never seem to have a serious discussion about it, so I thought I would write a blog and see if we can generate discussion and take the matter more seriously.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have now classified lead as a reproductive toxicity Cat 1a, a quote from the WHO website on lead
“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and particularly harmful to children”
So as you can see, it’s not a trivial matter, when the subject of lead solder use in plumbing is raised on social media I see lots of responses which trivialise the subject, people stating that they buy lead solder, or they always carry lead solder in their tool bag and try and warrant this by saying they only use it on gas or heating systems, well there are three issues here, firstly, having a role of lead solder in your tool bag means you have now contaminated your tools, this means lead is on your hands and everything you touch in a customers house could now be contaminated, I know this sounds extreme, but it’s factually true, you are now risking the health of the occupants of that property
secondly, if you use lead solder for joints in a sealed heating system, the problem is now the water in that heating system is a toxic soup (as my colleague Paul Daley would call it) especially as this can be mixed with chemical inhibitors, this raises the heating water within that system from fluid category 3 where a double check valve will suffice for backflow protection for the quick fill to a fluid category 5, and this requires a much more complicated and expensive option for backflow protection, and thirdly, if lead solder is used on gas, often some of this pipe is exposed, so can be touched by the people whose property it is, including children, so again, they can be contaminated.
Why use lead solder at all, for me I don’t understand why it is even permitted for sale now in the UK, I personally have not used leaded solder since around 2001, I used lead free solder for all my joints, whether that was heating, gas or water supplies and since around 2003 I moved to press fittings, so in my personal opinion there is absolutely no need for lead solder in our industry.
Now I know there will be some who are thinking, I am been a bit OTT with how harmful touching lead solder joints, or contaminating tools with a roll of solder in your tool bag, but just to prove how a minimal amount of lead solder in joints can affect the water supply, have a read of this case study from WRAS https://www.wras.co.uk/downloads/public_area/case_studies_public_/lead_solder.pdf/ just see how much the lead content of the water was raised by just 5-6 lead soldered joints, this shows the dangers of lead solder and how high lead levels can go with such a small amount of lead in contact with the water, way higher than recommended safe levels.
I just feel we need to start having a sensible grown up conversation on this subject, I do not profess to be the expert in this matter, I gained my knowledge on this issue from Simon Reddy and Paul Daley (Captain Backflow) who have much more knowledge than me on this subject.