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Lead trickles through European loophole …

作者:召业潮    发布时间:2019-02-28 05:03:01    

By Fred Pearce WATER companies have been saved from a multibillion-pound bill to clean up lead pollution in tapwater – thanks to a loophole in a new draft directive from the European Union. As a result, millions of young children could remain at risk of brain damage. Britain’s Drinking Water Inspectorate last week revealed in its annual report that as many as one in five homes in Britain may exceed the proposed new European safety limit of 10 micrograms of lead in a litre of tapwater. The new limit, published at the end of May, was recommended by the WHO in 1992 and replaces an old 50-microgram standard. The WHO, after assessing new evidence of toxicity, warned that “prolonged exposure” to lead may cause “serious neurological damage, especially among infants, children and pregnant women”. But governments are alarmed at the high cost of meeting the new health standard. Most of the lead in tapwater comes from domestic lead plumbing, though there is some lead piping in the public supply pipes. According to John Fawell of Britain’s Water Research Centre, who helped to draw up the new WHO standard, “at the last minute, the EU decided not to include domestic lead plumbing under its directive. Frankly, this makes a nonsense of the directive’s purpose.” Elizabeth Monck of the national customer council of Ofwat, the water industry price regulator, revealed the loophole in a paper on the directive published last month. She says that water companies will only have to act to reduce excessive lead levels in tapwater if it can be shown the lead comes from their pipes. Even schools will not be safe. “There are no obligations on schools, hospitals, restaurants, pubs or similar establishments to remove lead water pipes,” Monck wrote. The Department of the Environment this week agreed that the directive meant that neither the government nor water companies would be responsible for removing domestic lead plumbing to meet the new health limit. A spokesman said the government was “currently considering if the exclusion would apply to schools and hospitals”. Lead is dissolved from pipes where the water is “plumbosolvent”, usually because it is acid. Some water companies have reduced the plumbosolvency of their supplies by adding chemicals such as lime. Even so, dosing with lime is only partially effective. The Drinking Water Inspectorate revealed last week that a survey in 1994 found that 3.2 per cent of homes failed the existing 50 micrograms limit – a marginally worse result than in 1991, when 3.1 per cent failed. Only the removal of lead plumbing from most of the country will ensure the new limit is met, says Monck. In 1992, the Water Research Centre estimated that removing all lead plumbing in England and Wales would cost £8 billion. Removing lead from the public supply system alone would cost £2 billion. Many other countries in the European Union have not yet conducted surveys into the extent of lead contamination in tapwater,

 

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