Safe pipework: Lead and the law

It is widely accepted that the consumption of lead can have adverse effects on health if too much enters the body. In most cases, it’s small amounts of lead consumed over time that build up and result in ongoing health problems.

The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 prohibits the use of lead solder for joining copper pipes in plumbing systems which are used to supply water for cooking, drinking and bathing. Using lead-free solder isn’t just a legal requirement, it safeguards customers’ health.

Despite this, UK water suppliers still find examples of recent installations where lead solders have been used illegally. It is still available on the market for use in closed-circuit central heating systems and, worryingly, there have been cases of unqualified plumbers and DIY enthusiasts still using it to connect pipes in drinking water systems.

Where the illegal use of lead based solder is found by water suppliers who enforce the Water Fittings Regulations, they will require the installation to be cleared of all joints containing lead solder at the installer’s cost. The installer may also face a criminal prosecution for not complying with the Regulations.

If lead is detected, the pipes should be replaced as soon as possible with a suitable lead-free system. The water suppliers may be able to assist with some element of support in terms of replacing lead supply pipework to properties. Fortunately, there are a number of good lead-free alternatives on the market. Using these materials for pipes and fittings guarantees that water is safer to drink, and eliminates the risk of contamination.

At APHC, we want to encourage plumbers and heating installers to stop using lead solder altogether and for manufacturers and merchants to stop selling it, as lead-free alternatives can easily be used in joining copper pipes on all plumbing and heating works.

If we as an industry stop using lead solder, or ideally if it can’t be purchased, then this would go a long way in protecting public health from those who don’t know the regulations or understand the health risks associated with lead solder.

WaterSafe, the national hub for approved plumbers administered by the Water Regulations Approval Scheme (WRAS), allows plumbers to issue certificates to confirm that the work complies with the regulations.

In fact, WaterSafe can be free for suitably qualified plumbers who are members of an Approved Contractor Scheme. This means that APHC members who hold a recognised water fittings regulations certificate can join WaterSafe at no cost.

If you’d like to discuss the benefits that joining APHC can bring to your business, then please call the membership sales team on 0121 7115030.