I love lead. It protects me against ionizing radiation whilst I am imaging patients – my other profession as a Radiographer. Thanks to its attenuating properties, lead is found in gonad and thyroid protection, full body gowns, walls, and glass shields to reduce the intensity of the x-ray beam and prevent me from absorbing radiation.

It certainly has its place, but this heavy metal found in the earth’s crust is not something that we want floating around in our bloodstream. In fact, there are no safe blood lead levels! The widespread use of lead has not only had detrimental polluting effects on the environment but can also lead to significant health problems for humans, especially in our homes and our drinking water.


If our bodies are unable to excrete lead through urine or feces, it gets distributed to our heart, brain, liver, bones, and kidneys. It accumulates over a lifetime and ultimately gets stored in our teeth and bones. There are times when lead gets released back into the bloodstream, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding which becomes a source of exposure for the fetus and baby (WHO 2023).

Lead absorption can cause:

  • Impaired brain development (reduced IQ), especially in infants and children.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

  • Kidney damage/renal impairment.

  • Toxicity to testicular tissue and functions/male infertility.

  • Reduced attention span and increased anti-social behaviour.

  • Immunotoxicity.

  • Miscarriage, low birth weight, premature birth or still birth if the mother has had a high exposure to lead.

WHO 2023, EPA 2023, Vigeh et al. 2011

Like a lot of environmental toxins, our children are susceptible to lead exposure. They can absorb 4-5 times more ingested lead than an adult would from a given source (WHO 2023). This is due to their higher hand-to-mouth ratio. It is only natural for babies to put fingers and objects in their mouths as they learn about the world. This increases their risk of ingesting lead from paint chips and soil and inhaling contaminated dust. Infants who drink formula with lead-contaminated water are also at risk as it is essentially a large volume of water relative to their body size. Sadly, lead absorption in children is increased when they are undernourished and lack nutrients such as iron and calcium.


In 2018 the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) engaged Macquarie University to dig a little deeper into the extent of lead levels in our drinking water caused by plumbing products and materials. A literature review revealed copper alloy plumbing materials including brass tapware, are a health hazard in our homes.  When hot water is in contact with the surface for too long, the lead used to make up these materials can leach into our drinking water. This research has resulted in some changes to the current National Construction Code 2022.

The current maximum allowable lead concentrations for some metal and metal alloy components in contact with drinking water can be up to 6%; however from the 1st of September 2025, copper alloy plumbing products containing more than 0.25% lead will no longer be permitted for installation in a plumbing system used to convey drinking water (ABCB 2022). In the meantime plumbing practitioners are still allowed to install existing products, but why should we wait until 2025? The US introduced a maximum allowable lead content of 0.25% weighted average, calculated across wetted surfaces back in 2011. C’mon Australia, it’s time to catch up.

Silicone and bismuth may be the new lead replacements to manufacture copper alloy products. Although a “safer” alternative, only time will tell as to how healthy they are for us and our drinking water.


  • As a Building Biologist, I would recommend all homeowners select LEAD FREE plumbing components for their drinking water systems where possible. Stainless steel beats brass, bronze and gunmetal any day of the week as far as toxicity is concerned.

  • Select plumbing products that have WaterMark certification when renovating or building.

  • Before your morning cuppa, flush your cold water taps for 30 seconds before use. Do the same for public water fountains and taps to remove stagnant water and draw fresh water to the outlet.

  • Be aware of local construction or pipe maintenance work, as this can disturb lead in the pipelines. This is a good time to clean the aerator on the end of your spout, as this can become blocked with debris, sediment, and lead particles.

  • If you have been lucky enough to take a holiday away from home for an extended period, as soon as you step foot in the door, flush the cold-water taps used for drinking and cooking for about 2-3 minutes. The collected flushed water can be used for washing up, but don’t water your plants and veggies with it, as this is also bad news.

  • Avoid using the hot water tap for drinking water, cooking water, or the baby’s formula. Stick to the cold instead.

  • Invest in a “point of use” water filter that is NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certified. Reverse Osmosis systems are the bees knees when it comes to removing heavy metals. Get in touch if you require more advice on water filtration systems.

  • If you’re concerned about lead in your drinking water, Lakula offers lead testing. Shoot me an email anytime!


  • Lead is still being used to manufacture a range of plumbing products, including that fancy brass tapware in your kitchen.

  • Boiling water does NOT remove lead.

  • You cannot taste, see, or smell lead in your drinking water.

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (2023), our skin will not absorb lead from water in the shower.

  • The Perth Children’s Hospital was due to open in August 2015 but was delayed to May 2018 due to several construction issues, and unacceptable levels of lead in the drinking water. Brass fittings had undergone a process called dezincification, whereby zinc dissolves out of the brass alloy.

  • Australian homes with lead-contaminated water have mainly been due to the corrosion of plumbing fittings, lead used in roof catchments of tank supplies, and stabilizer compounds in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes.

  • The acidity of rainwater can cause corrosion to plumbing products.

  • Older homes may have copper pipes with lead-based solder (lead-based solder used on drinking water pipes was banned in Australia in 1989).

  • Additives such as chlorine and chloramine are used to disinfect drinking water and control bacteria and viruses. These additives can change the water chemistry and increase the uptake of lead from fixtures, pipes, and solder.

  • Heat/hot water systems will release more dissolved metals into water than cold water systems.

  • Lead levels should not exceed 10 micrograms per litre of water when tested in accordance with the ‘Australian and New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS) 4020 Testing of Products’.

There have been a lot of changes made to the latest NCC, and although we still have a long way to go at improving our building standards in this country, we are certainly taking some steps in the right direction.

ABCB, 2022, Advice for plumbing practitioners on the new lead requirements, (Online), Available: https://abcb.gov.au/news/2022/advice-plumbing-practitioners-new-lead-requirements

ABCB, 2021, Lead in plumbing products in contact with drinking water. Final Regulation Impact Statement 2021.

CDC, 2023, Lead in Drinking Water, (Online), Available: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/water.htm

Chang, L., Lee, J.H.W, Fung, Y.S, 2022, ‘Prediction of lead leaching from galvanic corrosion of lead-containing components in copper pipe drinking water supply systems’, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Vol. 436.

Environmental Protections Agency, 2023, Basic Information about Lead in Drinking Water, (Online), Available: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-water

Taylor, M.P, Harvey, P.J., Morrison, A.L., 2018, Lead in Plumbing Products and Materials. Macquarie University Centre for Energy and Environmental Contaminants, Sydney.

Vigeh, M., Smith, D.R., Hsu, P.C., 2011, ‘How does lead induce male infertility?’ Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine, Vol. 9, No.1, pp. 1-8.

World Health Organisation, 2023, Lead poisoning, (Online), Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health