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LEAD (Pb)

Lead is chemical element, with the symbol Pb, that naturally occurs in relatively small quantities in the earth’s crust. It is a soft, malleable, heavy metal that is denser than most common materials, has a low melting point, and takes on a dull grey appearance when exposed to air. Although relatively expensive, because of its properties, lead has been used as a construction material (in addition to other uses) since ancient times, with roofing, flashing, guttering, and pipework being common applications. It has also been used within paints as it inhibits the rusting and corrosion of iron and steel. However lead is also poisonous and if it gets into the body it can cause lead poisoning and consequential health problems. According to the WHO, young children are particularly vulnerable with exposure to lead adversely affecting the development of the brain and nervous system, but adults are also at risk as exposure increases the risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage, and exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth. While deaths due to lead poisoning in the UK are rare, it is estimated that exposure to lead accounted for over 1 million deaths globally in 2017, mostly in low- and middle- income countries. Since the 1970s awareness regarding the health risks poses by lead has grown and its use has reduced. In 1969, BUILDING REGULATIONS made it illegal for new water supply pipes to be lead because water flowing through lead pipes can pick up lead particles which can then be ingested. Subsequent regulations imposed on the water supply industry prescribed concentrations for substances that affect wholesomeness of the water supplied including a max. lead concentration of lead. The WATER SUPPLY (WATER QUALITY) REGULATIONS (2016) are the latest regulations which allow a max. lead concentration of 10 micrograms per litre (μg/l) or one part in 100 million. Because of such regulations, water supply companies have been slowly replacing their network of pipework with new copper or plastic pipes, however, homeowners are responsible for the pipes on their property, and if you live in a house built prior to the 1970s and have never had your pipework replaced, your water pipes may be lead. While it is not technically a requirement for old lead pipes to be replaced, it is advisable to have them replaced, and many water supply companies have lead replacement schemes where they will replace their pipework leading up to your property at the same time as you are replacing your own pipes. Other key pieces of legislation in the UK relating to the sale and use of lead include; the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (CONTROLS ON INJURIOUS SUBSTANCES) REGULATIONS (1992) which banned the sale of lead-based paints, and the CONTROL OF LEAD AT WORK (CLAW) REGULATIONS (2002) which seeks to protect the health of people work with lead by preventing or controlling, and monitoring their exposure. Lead is still used to a limited extent as a roofing and flashing material in the UK, but most of the lead sold these days has been obtained from recycling.

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