A concerning health alert publicised at the weekend about the potential of lead poisoning from tap water has caused much distress for many Aussies who are now worried their taps are contaminated.
The government warning, which was issued around six months ago but only came to light on Sunday, claimed people should run taps for at least 30 seconds before using water for drinking or cooking over concerns it could contain higher levels of lead than recommended.
In its initial statement, the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) said infants and children are most vulnerable, with poisoning potentially leading to problems with brain development. Contamination could also cause damage to digestive, cardiovascular, renal and reproductive functions, in both young and old.
However, in a new statement issued on Monday, enHealth clarified that the advice is nothing new and that there’s no need for the majority of Australians to worry.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy said there’s no evidence that consuming lead from Aussie tap water has made anyone sick. However, there have been instances of detection of lead levels above Australia’s drinking water guidelines.
“As a precautionary approach enHealth has issued household good practice guidelines to assist Australians in minimising their exposure to lead in drinking water, particularly when drinking from old taps,” he said in a statement. “enHealth have suggested these simple precautionary measures to ensure that lead levels in drinking water are as low as possible.”
His comments were echoed by several experts, including University of New South Wales Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Stuart Khan, who described Australia’s lead limit in drinking water as “very conservative”.
“The safe concentration of lead set in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines is 10 micrograms per litre,” he explained. “This concentration is supported by decades of research and is considered to be very conservative. It is intended to protect the most vulnerable community members, including babies and pregnant women.”
However, he did add that there have been a number of circumstances where this guideline has been exceeded, showing that improvements in lead exposure management are needed.
While it has been confirmed that modern houses are relatively safe from lead poisoning, with even Australia’s Chief Medical Officer admitting he doesn’t run his tap for the recommended time, Khan said those in older houses should be more wary.
“Reducing the allowable concentration of lead in brass fittings is an obvious way to reduce lead exposure,” he said.
“As I understand it, The Australian Building Codes Board has commenced the process of implementing this. However, this doesn’t correct the legacy problem of older plumbing systems in older households and buildings.
“In those cases, the recommendation to flush water before use is appropriate.”