Are you checking for lead in drinking water pipes and fittings?

New research suggests that exposure to traces of lead may be linked to as many deaths as smoking and it has been linked to 412,000 premature deaths in the US each year. Because of its relative abundance in the earth’s crust and its malleability, lead (Pb) was used in the production of pipes for water supply for centuries. It wasn’t until the 20th century that scientific research demonstrated that lead was harmful to the human body. Ingestion or inhalation of lead can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, especially in young children and pregnant women. XRF technology is playing a key role in protecting human health.

Lead can enter drinking water if the components in water installations (e.g. lead pipes, leaded-brass fixtures, lead solder) corrode. Homes built prior to 1980 are likely have copper pipes connected by a lead solder. To prevent the leaching of lead into drinking water, many pipes in potable water supplies have been replaced by copper because it is resistant to corrosion, impermeable, long-lasting and sustainable.

However, the use of leaded solder is still widespread, and some brass faucets and fittings still contain lead particularly in aging water infrastructure systems prior to when corrosion control measures were adopted. Due to the fabrication of lead-free fittings being more costly, components containing lead are still used for other water installations and in countries in which safety regulations are not yet in place.


Around the world

 To ensure that public drinking water meets strict safety requirements, the Safe Water Drinking Act was introduced in the U.S. in 1974.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. then published a regulation known as Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) to control both lead and copper in drinking water in 1991. However, recent news headlines suggest that lead, copper and other metals are still an issue in drinking water. This is why the U.S EPA is looking to update lead water pipe standards to ensure communities have access to safe drinking water.

 In Hong Kong, a comprehensive safety overhaul of drinking water is taking place. Hong Kong seeking to adopt standards beyond guidelines set by the World Health Organisation after learning a bitter lesson from a lead contamination scandal in 2015 and fears of a second scare back in late 2017.

 According to Defra, from the 1970s onwards the use of lead has been prohibited across Europe. Although lead pipes have not been permitted for this purpose for four decades, in older properties it remains possible that part, or all, of the underground service pipe connecting the water main in the street to a kitchen tap may be made from lead.

Using XRF technology as a solution

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a proven, non-destructive technique that enables the determination of the elemental composition of various materials, including metal alloys, in seconds. Hitachi High-Tech’s X-MET8000 series of handheld analysers can be used for the rapid testing of metal plumbing components in existing and new water installations. The X-MET8000 can also be used for materials incoming inspection, manufacturing quality control, and to ensure the correct components are being selected in the warehouse prior to an installation or repair.

Our two-step guide for checking for lead:

Point and shoot

With a handheld XRF analyser testing couldn’t be simpler: simply position the analyser’s nose on the part to test, and press the trigger to measure. Results are displayed almost immediately. The results display can be customised to show pass/fail messages when a given element is above or below a user-defined level (e.g. show FAIL if Pb > 0.25%), enabling rapid decision making.

Use a small-spot collimator option for measuring solders

Solder joints can be narrow. The use of the integrated collimator ensures that you test the solder only, not the surrounding material. The optional built-in camera helps you position the analyser correctly on the solder joint. The small-spot collimator option is available on Hitachi High-Tech’s X-MET8000 Expert and Optimum models.

Handheld analysers provide rapid and reliable material identification and chemistry for positive material identification (PMI) inspection as well as for manufacturing quality assurance and on-site verification of existing water supply installations. Their ease of use, robustness and ergonomics make them the tool of choice for any metal testing applications.

Want to find out more about how Hitachi High-Tech’s X-MET range could help you? Contact us today to talk to an expert or book a demo.

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Date: 13 March 2018

Author: Christelle Petiot, Product Manager, Handheld XRF

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