Drinking water and lead

ESR scientists provide advice and expertise to help Aotearoa New Zealand supply and maintain high quality drinking water.

The team focuses on the impact of water contamination on communities and works to reduce the risk of contamination in the first place, by providing advice about drinking water infrastructure and management.

They also support public health responses, such as when high lead levels were detected Waikouaiti’s drinking water supply in early 2021. ESR scientists contributed epidemiological, forensic, clinical, toxicological and risk management expertise as well as drinking-water knowledge to determine the potential risks from the water supply and to assist with the investigation into the cause of the lead.

This incident raised an issue that is relevant to the whole country, because lead pipes and fittings can be present in the infrastructure of homes and buildings without people knowing about them. If water sits in lead pipes for a while, the lead can begin to leach into the drinking water.

Flush the taps

Luckily there is an easy way to remove this lead from drinking water, and that is to flush your taps if water has been sitting in the pipes for a while. For most people, that means running about a cup of water from your kitchen sink in the morning, before using water for drinking or cooking.

For more details about how to flush your sinks, read this handy Q&A with ESR toxicologist Dr Belinda Cridge.

Drinking water management

ESR’s drinking-water team continues to advise both the Ministry of Health and Taumata Arowai on public health risks associated with water treatment and management. As with COVID-19, when major public health incidents occur, ESR’s role is vital in ensuring accurate information is available to multiple parties quickly allowing data-driven decisions to be made. This works to protect the health of our citizens and reflects our commitment to science for communities. 

Find out more

International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2022(external link) (WHO)

Selection, operation and maintenance of individual household water supplies (ESR guide)

Lead poisoning(external link) (MOH)