Lead Alert! Investigation Finds Toxic Lead in School Drinking Water
A recent investigation by i News has found illegal levels of lead in UK school drinking water.
i News examined data from UK tap water tests carried out over the past ten years, which they obtained through a request via the Environmental Information Regulations. Their investigation revealed that lead had been detected in drinking water in hundreds of schools. 59 tests conducted in around 30 schools found levels of lead equal to or exceeding the UK’s legal limit of 10 micrograms per litre. An additional 95 tests conducted in around 50 schools found lead concentrations above the EU’s 5 microgram per litre limit, which was set in 2020 to be achieved by 2036.
The presence of such lead levels in drinking water can be attributed to the use of lead pipes, which were banned in the 1970s. Despite this ban, there are still millions of lead pipes being used in the UK.
Lead has long been known to be toxic, and exposure can cause permanent or long-term adverse health impacts. Even very low levels of lead in the blood may result in reduced intelligence, behavioural issues and learning difficulties in children. Research also suggests there may be links between blood lead levels and ADHD, as CHEM Trust highlighted in our No Brainer report.
The World Health Organisation has stated that ‘there is no known safe blood lead concentration’.
Lead is also known to impact wildlife, the wider environment and human food sources. A significant factor contributing to this is that lead is still allowed to be used in ammunition for various types of hunting and sports shooting in the UK. This is estimated to be responsible for the death of 100,000 waterbirds in the UK annually. A recent blog by Wildlife and Countryside Link highlights problems associated with ingestion of lead ammunition by wildlife, which adds to the number of ecological stressors they already endure. It also draws attention to the role of lead ammunition in introducing lead into the human food chain and the associated risks to people’s health.
CHEM Trust is calling for the adoption of an ambitious restriction on lead in ammunition, as are other UK NGOs. This restriction, which Defra committed to in 2021, has been significantly delayed, and we are now urging for adoption before the upcoming general election.