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DIY Safety Information - Lead solder


Dangers of Lead


How to avoid health risks from lead solder and flux contamination of water

 

Who should read this?

If you are renovating your home, or you are a professional or DIY plumber, a builder or a property developer, this page tells you what you need to know about avoiding health risks and complying with the law on lead solder.

 

Risks from lead

Car pollution

Lead exists in the environment. It comes from a variety of sources including some vehicle exhausts and old paintwork. It may be present in air, food, soil or water. Lead can build up in the body and can be harmful. It is sensible to avoid excessive exposure from any source.

Some older houses have lead water pipes.

But there is another potential source of lead in water. If someone installing drinking water fittings uses lead solder, then the level of lead in the water can be harmful to health in some areas of water supply. In addition, the flux used to help the flow of solder into the joints, can cause contamination of water with lead and copper if left in the pipes. This is particularly true of the aggressive self-cleaning type of flux.

The potential health risk posed by lead means it is vital to raise awareness of the need to meet high standards when soldering joints. Installers should follow the detailed advice on making soldered joints in the Copper Development Association (CDA) publications 33 and 88. You can get copies by contacting CDA on 01727 731200 or through its web site at http://www.cda.org.uk/.

 

What the Water Supply Fittings Regulations say about lead solders

It is illegal to use lead solder when installing fittings to be used with water for drinking, washing or preparing food. Water supply byelaws and more recently the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 have banned the use of lead solder throughout England and Wales for over 15 years.

However, lead solder can still be safely used for some plumbing works where the water is not for drinking or cooking, such as in closed circuit heating systems.

Installers and users of water systems are legally obliged to comply with these Regulations, including the requirements for lead solder. Water suppliers must ensure that the Regulations are met. They do this by inspecting the plumbing systems of a sample of new and existing properties.

Property owners, builders and developers should insist that plumbers abide by the Regulations and use the right materials. If they don't, they risk a court summons and a fine.

  • Use only lead-free solder in drinking water installations
  • Look for 'lead-free' on solder labels

 

Advice on using a plumber

Choose a plumber who understands the regulations

Plumber

Use a plumber or contractor who is approved under the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations. An approved plumber will provide a certificate that the work on your drinking water installation meets all regulatory requirements - including the use of only lead-free solder. Find an approved plumber.


Does your plumber have the soldering information leaflet?


Check that your plumber has read the UK Copper Board's leaflet on correct soldering, which is available from their web site at http://www.ukcopperboard.co.uk/.

Checking water supply installations

Plumber

If you suspect that lead solder has been used on your recent installation, you can ask an approved plumber to carry out a test. You should contact your water company, who can also analyse the water and advise you what to do if they detect lead solder.

The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS), which works on behalf of all water suppliers, also provides further information. Please see the 'further advice' section below for contact details.

General advice

In new homes or where plumbing has been modernised there may be newly soldered joints. The plumber should thoroughly flush the system to get rid of any installation debris - although flushing may not always remove all excess flux.

Water should not be left standing for a long time between installation of a plumbing system and its first use. The system should be completely drained and then flushed, or preferably someone should run the water frequently to change it within the system, while it is new.

You should briefly flush regularly during the first month of service to help wash out any metal particles picked up from the pipes and joints, and minimise any problems from excess flux.

You are also advised to briefly flush the plumbing system each time you use it before drawing water from the tap for drinking or for food preparation.

Advice to DIY plumbers installing water supply fittings

Buy the right solder

Lead free solder

The label should state that the solder is 'lead-free'. If you are uncertain, ask a store assistant for advice. You can get non-leaded jointing solutions such as an integral solder ring, which is guaranteed to use lead-free solder. You can also use push-fit and press-fit fittings that do not need heat.

Some basic soldering tips

Soldering joints involves cleaning, fluxing and assembly, heating and finishing off. You must be aware of all the basic practical steps to ensure a safe installation. You can get further advice from the UK Copper Board at info@wras.co.uk or through its web site at http://www.wras.co.uk/. WRAS has a Water Supply Industry Approved Installation Method (AIM) giving water industry guidance, entitled 'Solders and Fluxes'.

Where can I get more information about drinking water quality?


Your water company's public record

You can see the record at one of the company's offices. Customer services staff will explain the result of tests and tell you what is being done to rectify any failures. You are entitled to a free copy of the record for the area in which you live. Alternatively, you can write to the company for details.

Your local authority

Water companies are required to give local authorities information about the quality of water supply in their areas.

 


 

 

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