The big picture.
Any water produced at over 900 of the governments water treatment plants is lead-free, including the water mains network which carries water to your homes and businesses.
However, in the years leading up to the mid/late 1970’s lead was commonly used in plumbing systems nationwide. It was used mainly as “service connectors” in pipes connecting public water mains to homes and businesses. From the late 1970’s the risks associated with lead piping became apparent and its use was discontinued.
Irish Water estimates that there are in the region of 180,000 homes served by lead piping.
What are the risks?
The Health Service Executive and the Environmental Protection Agency both maintain that consumption of lead is not safe at any level.
Young children, pregnant woman and fetuses are deemed those to be most at risk to lead poisoning. An unsafe dosage for children can have little or no effect on an adult.
Lead poisoning has been linked with cognitive and behavioral issues, hyperactivity, stunted growth, anemia, premature births and more.
For more information on the health effects of lead poisoning visit the HSE information page on Lead.
What’s going to happen to lead plumbing in Ireland?
Irish water plans to spend €370 million in the next 10 years replacing lead pipes on the public water supply, and houses which have shared service connections at the rear of the property. However, they will not replace piping under gardens or within properties.
Irish Water is proposing to add a chemical called orthophosphate to the national water supply. Orthophosphate creates a protective coating like film inside pipes. This stops lead from dissolving in pipes and fittings an thus entering the water supply.
Irish Water described Orthophosphate as a “food grade product that is clear, odorless and very common in the beverage industry”.
Jerry Grant, head of assets for Irish Water told Live 95FM in 2015 that Orthophosphate “is a common additive in all processed foods - for example a pint of beer will have 150 times more phosphorus in it than we would have in drinking water treated fully,” .
The HSE also maintains that there are no public health implications for its use.
How to check for lead pipes?
Lead pipes are normally dark grey or black and will have a dull coating. The joints will also appear 'swollen'.
Find where your water pipe enters the house. - Scrape the pipe with a knife – if you find a shiny silver strip then the pipe is lead.
If you know your plumbing has been upgraded, you should still check the pipe running from the water mains to your kitchen regardless.
My home has lead pipes, what will it cost me?
This will vary from property to property. Depending on the level of lead plumbing used in the property you could be looking at a bill of €5,500 for a 3 bed semi. This figure will vary.
Grants for removing lead piping
If the property is your Principal Private Residence and the plumbing being replaced forms part of the system carrying water for human consumption than you are eligible subject to additional requirements.
Households with an income of €50,000 or less will be entitled to a grant of up to €4,000, while those with an income between €50,000 and €75,000 will be entitled to receive a grant of €2,500.
For more information on replacing lead plumbing see citizens information page on lead removal.