Lead pipes

Lead is a common substance. It can come from a variety of sources, including vehicle exhausts, and old paintwork, and may be present in air, food, soil or water.

How does lead get into drinking water?

Water leaving the Cambridge Water treatment works and travelling along our network of pipes is effectively lead-free.

Where lead is usually found in tap water, is usually comes from old lead pipework in, or near the home.

For a long time, generally up to 1960s, lead was used for some water pipes and in solder used to join copper pipes and fittings. Some types of water, particularly soft water, can dissolve lead from pipes. However, the water we supply is hard and as such is less prone to dissolution.

The amount of lead dissolved from pipes also depends on acidity, temperature and standing time of the water.

Is lead harmful?

Excessive exposure to lead can be harmful to humans. Young children, and unborn babies are particularly vulnerable and studies have shown lead may have some effect on their mental development. It may also be a factor in behavioural problems.

To ensure all the water is safe to drink Cambridge Water treats its water to remove the harmful effects of lead.

How do I know if there are lead pipes in my home?lead pipe

If your home was built:

1) Before 1963 it may have lead pipes

2) After 1963 it is unlikely to have lead pipes.

If you home has been modernised since the early 1960s and all of its pipework replaced, there should be no lead pipework on your property.

If you are unsure, you can make a simple check:

1) Look at the pipework inside your home, such as the pipes leading to the kitchen tap or the pipe which leads to your internal stop-tap (usually under the kitchen sink)

2) Unpainted lead pipes are dull grey and soft. If you scrape the surface gently with a knife  or coin you will see the shiny, silver-coloured metal beneath. As a guide other pipe materials have the following appearances:

  1. Copper - bright or dull orange in colour, and hard
  2. Iron - dark, very hard and may be rusty
  3. Plastic - may be grey, blue or black

3) To identify whether you have lead pipes supplying your property open the stop valve chamber outside your property and examine the pipe which leads from the stop valve back to your property to see if it has the lead appearance described above.

How can I find out if there is lead in my drinking water?

If your home does have lead pipes, your drinking water may sometimes contain high levels of lead. If you are concerned about the level of lead in your supply please contact Cambridge Water. We will send an inspector, free of charge, to determine the material your supply pipe is made from and take a water sample for analysis if appropriate.

The results will be sent to you after the analysis.

Of all the samples we carry out every year for lead compliance the likelihood of failing the standard is less than one percent.

What can I do to reduce lead levels?

If lead pipes are causing high lead levels in your drinking water you can take some simple short-term precautions:

1) Do not drink water that has been standing in the pipes for long periods, for example, overnight, or if the supply has not been used for several hours

2) In these circumstances draw off a washing up bowl of water from the kitchen tap to clear the water, that has been standing in the pipes. This need not be wasted but can be used on the garden or for something other than drinking or cooking. You can now use water from the kitchen tap as usual.

3) Ensure you only use cold water for cooking or drinking purposes, as hot water dissolves more lead than cold water

Who owns what pipes?

Pipes under the road or pavements up to the boundary of your property are the responsibility of Cambridge Water. In the majority of cases these pipes are not lead. The pipe from the boundary of your property to the internal plumbing is the responsibility of the property owner.

All the plumbing inside your home to the kitchen tap is the responsibility of the property owner.

If you do have any lead pipework between the stop valve outside your home and your kitchen tap, the best solution is to replace it with copper or plastic pipework.

At Cambridge Water we are committed to improving the quality of the water supplied to our customers. To help reduce lead in the water we are able to offer the following water quality initiative:

We will replace free of charge our part of the lead service pipe if:

1) A sample exceed the permitted maximum concentration of 10ug/l for lead or

2) You have replaced your part of the service pipe up to the first draw off tap (some conditions may apply) and request that we replace our part of the service pipe, regardless of the levels of lead in your drinking water

You can download our lead pipe replacement leaflet here.

Grants maybe available for renovation and minor works for households with low income. Information about this should be obtained from your local authority

Where can I get more advice?

If you are still unsure about what lead pipes are like, or would like further information about lead in the water supply please contact us and we will be happy to help you. 

Your Environmental Health Officer can also give advice.

Qualified plumbers registered with the Institute of Plumbing can assist with pipe replacement. If you would like details of a suitable plumber, please click here.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate has also published an information leaflet on lead which you can access here.