Belfast homes' drinking water to be tested by Queen's researchers for lead contamination

Queen's lead researcher Dr Tristan Sturm speaks to UTV Live.

Hundreds of Belfast homes will be tested for lead contamination after an earlier study found elevated levels of the dangerous metal in drinking water.A small study by Queen's University researchers found that 15% of the samples collected exceeded the standard UK limit for lead levels in water. The study also found at least some lead in all of the houses tested and stated that "there is no safe threshold of exposure to lead". The team at QUB estimates that around 25% of homes in NI have water pipes made from lead.

A team from QUB will now carry out a larger study of 300 homes in the city to try and learn the extent of the "silent crisis" of contaminated water. Lead contaminated water can cause a variety of health problems even at low levels particularly for young children. It can affect brain development and kidneys, and is linked by research to heart disease, social deviance and cancer.

Lead piping is common in NI homes built before 1970.

The UK reference limit for lead in water is 10 µgPb/L, whereas five of the Belfast samples were higher than 50 µgPb/L and one as high as 95.2 µgPb/LDr Tristan Sturm, one of the team of researchers working on the project, said that the UK limit on lead is itself a "false economy of safety"."We would argue that it should be much lower, So to find that some houses were vastly higher than this was quite shocking."

Dr Strum added: "Without proper testing of drinking water, our cities are complicity producing the next generation of children who might under-perform, be prone to violence, or suffer debilitating bodily harm relative to their unexposed peers."

NI Water said it welcomed the findings and the research.

It said: "NI Water tests drinking water supplied to customer homes, across Northern Ireland, 365 days per year, including weekends and bank holidays, to ensure that drinking water supplied to our customers is of the best possible quality.

“There is almost no lead in drinking water when it leaves our water treatment works or in our water mains. Any lead in drinking water usually comes from lead service pipes in the home.

"This pipework is predominantly within customer properties, with a small percentage of NI Water lead communication pipes, still in use across Northern Ireland. NI Water have a £million per year, programme of work in place to remove these communication pipes.

“Lead pipe is predominantly present in older properties built before 1970. NI Water recommends customers to check for the presence of lead pipework if their property is built prior to 1970. We further recommend that customers consider replacement of the lead pipework in their property. These service pipes are the responsibility of the homeowner to replace.

“We have been working to support the QUB lead project since 2018 and recognise the public’s concern. As an organisation we have been working to improve the situation since lead regulations were put in place for Northern Ireland in the 1980s. “We also have information and advice on our website for anyone who does have lead piping. Anyone with any concerns can also have their water tested."

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