Flush Taps To Avoid Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water

A six-month-old warning to flush household taps for about 30 seconds in the morning to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water is "common sense", the government has said. 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt responded to recommendations by the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) over lead poisoning concerns, released in July, that was on Sunday highlighted in media reports.

He said the material was made publicly available at the time.

"I was surprised at the time, and disappointed it wasn't given more publicity," Hunt told reporters on Sunday.

"I'm pleased that now, somewhat delayed, it has been given the prominence that I thought it should have otherwise received."

The enHealth statement -- which represents the National Health and Medical Research Council along with Commonwealth, state and territory departments -- offers a series of "precautions" to reduce exposure to lead that may be dissolving into drinking water from plumbing products.

While finding lead in water is a rare occurrence in Australia since the replacement of lead pipes with copper in the 1930s, contamination can still occur due to corrosion of old pipes that supply drinking water to buildings.

It can also dissolve into water from brass plumbing fittings in taps after long periods of contact -- and can be more risky in hot water.

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According to the current Australian Drinking Water guidelines, the maximum level of allowable lead sits at 0.01 milligrams (or 10 micrograms) per litre. Consuming levels above that  can have a negative effect on your health.

The statement warns parents that infants and children are "especially vulnerable" to lead exposure that can impair brain development.

"Infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size," it says.

Image: Getty

Householders are advised to use water from cold taps only for drinking and cooking, and to flush them for about 30 seconds in the morning to draw through fresh water.

There is no need for households to have their water tested, it adds.

Minister Hunt called them "precautions" that are "in many ways common sense".

"Above all else, the advice from the Chief Medical Office is clear and categorical: our water is safe and indeed some of the safest and cleanest water in the world," he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the precautions were "common sense". Image: AAP

The federal government is reportedly considering new national guidelines that will reduce the permitted amount of lead in brass fittings from 4.5 percent.

Dr Paul Harvey, a Macquarie University professor whose 2016 study found lead in more than half of surveyed tap water samples in NSW, told the Daily Telegraph it was "well and truly overdue".

It comes amid a string of lead contamination woes, including a saga that plagued the construction and opening of Perth Children's Hospital.

After three years, water tested found the levels of lead to be below Australia's maximum allowance.

Earlier this year, about 30 water bubblers were turned off in Geelong and more than 140 were tested after high levels of lead were detected in the city's public drinking foundations, with plumbing materials believed to be the source.

Authorities later deemed the water supply safe.

Minister Hunt said the guidelines do not relate to a particular incident.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty