Lead water pipes a risk for pregnant women, young children: Health Council

Many houses in the Netherlands still have lead water pipes and that can be dangerous for pregnant women and children up to the age of 7, the Health Council warned in advice to Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuzien of Infrastructure and Water Management.  According to the Health Council, more must be done to remove these dangerous pipes, and until they're gone, children and pregnant women in affected homes should switch to bottled water, RTL Nieuws reports.

Lead pipes can result in too high concentrations of lead in the drinking water. "There are strong indications that an increased concentration of lead has an effect on brain development", Pim van Gool, chairman of the Health Council, said to the broadcaster. That is naturally dangerous to young and unborn children. Lead can also lead to higher blood pressure and kidney damage, Van Gool said. 

A concentration of 10 micrograms of lead per liter of water is permitted by law. But it is impossible to determine for yourself whether the water in your taps contain higher concentrations of lead - lead does not have a smell or taste and can only be detected by having the water tested by a specialist. Lead pipes are easy to recognize by their gray color, but are often underground or in the wall or floor. 

Houses built before 1960 have the greatest chance of having lead water pipes. After that, lead largely stopped being used in this way. The Health Council estimates that between 100 thousand and 200 thousand homes in the Netherlands still have lead pipes, especially homes in old city centers. "That is about 10 thousand children and a few thousand pregnant women", Van Gool said to the broadcaster.

People in brand new homes also have a risk of too high concentrations of lead in their drinking water, as new couplings and taps tend to release lead. But that is not permanent - the concentration of lead in drinking water decreases again after a few months. 

The Health Council calls on the government to find ways to facilitate and encourage the replacement of lead pipes in homes. A subsidy scheme can help with this. The Council also wants the government to oblige people to report the presence of lead pipes when they sell or rent out their home, and to include the presence of lead pipes in the risk assessment for daycare centers and schools.

For people living in homes with lead pipes, the Health Council recommends tackling the problem at the source and replacing these pipes as soon as possible. While the lead pipes are still there, pregnant women, babies who receive bottle feeding, and young children should not use tap water, but bottled water, the Health Council stressed. "This explicitly applies pending remediation, and not in stead of."

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