The Drinking Water Ordinance of 2001, which entered into force on 1 January 2003, makes provisions for a gradual reduction of the lead limit in drinking water by 1 December 2013. That date marks the end of the ten-year transitional period for the replacement of lead pipes. It affects buildings which were built before 1970; after that, lead pipes were no longer installed. Lead pipes have not been used throughout southern Germany for more than one hundred years. In other regions, however, lead pipes were sometimes installed as house connection lines and as part of the drinking water system in buildings.
House connection lines are generally the responsibility of the water utility, and it alone can replace them. The pipes in the drinking water system are the property of the building owner who assumes responsibility for the good quality of drinking water and for the replacement of any lead pipes which may have been installed.
If lead pipes are still in house connection lines or inside buildings, affected consumers must be notified in writing or per public notice as of 1 December 2013 – even if the limit value for lead is not exceeded. This information is important for certain risk groups. It is recommended that expecting mothers and toddlers not drink water with lead content or eat food which was cooked with this water. These groups should choose bottled water whenever possible.
Lead is a nervous system toxin and haemotoxin which accumulates in the organism and can impact the development of the nervous system during childhood in particular. This puts pregnant women, the unborn, infants and toddlers at higher risk and they must be protected against lead intake.
The other materials in an installation, for example galvanised steel or copper alloys, can leach lead into drinking water. The UBA has issued recommendations for materials that are suitable for drinking water hygiene and which have been proven not to exceed the new limit value for lead (see link below: Metals List). New installations and maintenance measures should ensure that only metal materials that are featured on the list are used.
As a rule, water for drinking and food preparation should not remain stagnant in pipes for too long (longer than four hours). If the tap has not been turned on for a longer period, the water should be allowed to run for a while until it flows cool from the tap. The local health office or Land authority responsible for drinking water is available to provide help and advice if problems arise.