Plumbers broke Building Regulations and used lead solder in drinking water pipework, contaminating homes in Scotland and possibly nationwide.

FEARS are growing that lead may be in the drinking water of thousands of new homes across the UK. The problem has already been identified in Edinburgh and traced to plumbers flouting the Building Regulations by using lead solder, but an expert has warned that this practice might not be confined to Scotland. Howard Price, assistant secretary for environmental protection at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “If this has arisen because people are breaking the by-laws, it is unlikely to be confined to one region.”

Scottish officials went on the alert after tests by Edinburgh City Council on 161 new homes revealed dangerous levels of lead in 18 homes and traces of lead in the drinking water at 48 homes. The 161 homes were built by seven housebuilders.

The Scottish Executive then ordered a survey of drinking water in all new homes throughout the country, which was carried out by the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health.

The DETR declined to say whether a similar survey would be carried out in England and Wales.

If this has arisen because people are breaking the by-laws, it is unlikely to be confined to one region

Howard Price, Chartered Institute of Enviromental Health

A spokesman for East of Scotland Water, which supplied the homes, said: “The problem has occurred in homes where lead solder has been used in the joints and fittings of copper pipework.” Lead-based solder has been prohibited in drinking water pipework since 1989.

Building has obtained a letter from Bryant Homes, one of the seven housebuilders affected, to a resident on the new estate about water quality. It states: “We have been notified of a slightly higher than permitted level of lead from the first draw of water in your bathroom and kitchen tap and we would like to attend to this as soon as possible.”

A letter from East of Scotland Water to the same resident over the water samples says that the level of lead is 82.4 microgrammes per litre in the bathroom cold water tap and 27.5 microgrammes per litre in the kitchen. The letter states: “The limit for lead in drinking water is 50 microgrammes per litre … The above results exceed 10 microgrammes per litre. This indicates that lead solder may have been used in your plumbing system.”