LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 14 Number 4, July 2014, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Elizabeth O’Brien, Editorial Team: Yiru Rocky Huang and David Ratcliffe

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How to Ensure your Rainwater is Lead-Safe Drinking Water

Written (2012) by Jessica Onie, Chemistry Student (University of New South Wales) and Intern, The LEAD Group Inc. Edited (April 2013) by Ian Smith, BSc BE MBA; new material added by Elizabeth O’Brien, BSc Grad Dip Health Education; edited (May 2014) by Paul Harvey, Postgraduate Researcher, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Macquarie University, Volunteers, The LEAD Group Inc. Australia


The Lead Problem in Drinking Water from Rainwater Tanks in Australia:

Lead - An Overview

Lead has been used in a vast range of products since as early as 3000 BC. These days, lead is primarily used in batteries and ammunition but its legacy uses include roofing, gutters, flashing, paint, and fuel. Lead’s harmful effects towards the biological system are not a recent discovery, notorious for being a neurotoxin, lead also affects the bones, development, and fertility, raises blood pressure and causes premature aging. Lead is too often overlooked at the household level leading to cases of avoidable lead poisoning.

Our concern is that lead still has its continuing, unnoticed presence in rainwater tanks, water pumps, piping, taps and rainwater collection areas (usually roofs).

The Alarming Studies

A Monash University study (Magyar et al, 2008) revealed excessive amounts of lead in 33% of rainwater tanks tested in metropolitan Melbourne;

A Griffith University study (Huston, 2009) revealed that 10-20% of rainwater tanks tested across Brisbane contained lead levels higher than 0.01 mg/L, the recommended maximum safe level of lead in water, from the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG). The study goes on to suggest that unless you live in a town that has a lot of heavy industry, the main source of lead in your rainwater tank is likely to be derived from your roof top (Anna Salleh 2009);

A University of Technology, Sydney study (Kus, 2010) revealed that five out of eleven rainwater tanks tested in metropolitan Sydney contained lead levels higher than the recommended ADWG levels;

Magyar et al. 2014 (Influence of roofing materials and lead flashing on rainwater tank contamination by metals) do a good study on different roofing materials

What are the implications of these studies??

Taking the figures on rainwater used as drinking water in capital cities from the 2010 census (ABS 2010a), the above studies would suggest that in Metropolitan NSW, Vic and Qld alone there are a total of 18, 692 households where rainwater with excessive amounts of lead, if the water is used as drinking water. If we are to draw on the national average of 2.6 people per household (ABS 2010b), this would mean that there are 37, 384 people whohave been potentially exposed to elevated drinking water lead levels.

Those people who are  sourcing their drinking water from rainwater tanks (or are planning to) need to be aware of how to avoid the harmful effects of lead in drinking water.  With rainwater tanks, the burden lies with the owner to monitor and maintain water quality within the tanks. This lack or regulation places those consuming water from tanks at risk of lead poisoning.

If you use your rainwater tanks for drinking, it is advisable to monitor its quality and lead content to avoid its harmful effects. Children and unborn babies who more readily absorb the lead into the bloodstream are the most vulnerable to and most detrimentally affected by lead poisoning. This is particularly concerning for babies who are fed (rainwater) reconstituted formula; reconstitution of formula using lead contaminated water has been shown to be a major exposure pathway for infants.  In the long term, lead poisoning has been linked to learning difficulties, mental and physical disabilities, increased rates of crime, and ultimately a lower standard of living..

What Do I Need to Do?

Reading this fact sheet, you are presumably looking for precautions and advice regarding rainwater tanks – what can I do? Rainwater tanks can be perfectly safe but how do you and how will you know if your household is or will be one of the four households with excess lead its tanks? There are three stages of prevention, depending on your circumstances:

  1. Primary Prevention – I plan to source my drinking water from a rainwater tank, what should I be concerned of?
  2. Secondary Prevention – I am using a rainwater tank for drinking at home, what should I do?
  3. Tertiary Prevention – I have discovered that my rainwater tank is lead contaminated, how do I go by this?

According to a 2007 government fact sheet on rainwater tanks and water maintenance (here), quality of water is dependent on how you maintain your tank and catchment.

Primary Prevention – Prior to Purchase

Before purchasing your tank, ensure that the tank is made specifically for rainwater collection for drinking.  Make sure you use high quality plastic pipes and fittings. It is ideal to avoid metal roofs, or roofs with lead flashing as corrosion and leaching can lead to poisoning. Do not install a rainwater tank if your catchment area, generally your roof, contains lead-based paints or lead flashing. Replace any lead-flashing with non-lead flashing, or contact a paint company for a paint product that will protect the water from lead leaching from your roof or from any other sources of contamination. 

Contaminants tend to settle at the base of the tank. Ensure that you have a diverter to discard the first 30mm of catchment. The new tank should also be washed before use.

Note that Australia does not have a regulation for domestic rainwater treatment or distribution.

Secondary Prevention – Determine Presence of Contamination

The Australian Building Code (2004) instructs that buildings with a rainwater tank added at the same time as the house is built must not be constructed with lead flashing. However there are no requirements regarding lead-flashing in buildings built pre-2004 and in houses with rainwater tanks installed after its construction.

If you are drinking from a rainwater tank, it is advisable to test your tank for lead contamination. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (established by National Health and Medical Research Council) suggests a maximum allowed limit of 10 μg/L.

The LEAD Group provides a >>lead-testing kit and service (physical kit, lab analysis, and results interpretation). Visit >>here for more information.

Check your house for presence of lead flashing; remove it as soon as possible to allow minimal lead content in rainwater tanks. Test your rainwater tank for lead contamination, and do not drink water with unsafe levels of lead.

Tertiary Prevention – Post-Contamination Action, and Source Identification

If you find that your rainwater tank has unsafe levels of lead, stop drinking from the tank. Contact your doctor to get a lead blood test and find all the possible sources for the contamination - contact the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS) at 1800 626 086 for advice

Detailed Information on Hazards, Tank Materials, and Preventative Measures:




It is your responsibility to ensure that your rainwater tanks are lead-safe. >>Test your water, find your sources of lead, and what kind of tanks to avoid.

Find the organisations responsible for your contaminated tank, and inform them of the issue. Stop purchasing items – directly and indirectly - from companies that allow lead to get in to drinking water.

Find organisations that can aid in any of the three prevention types. Information and relevant services can be found on www.lead.org.au or by contacting The LEAD Group directly at 1800 626 086 (freecall)

Make sure your water is healthy. It’s easily controllable - and not too late, we can help.

Further Reading:

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Last Updated 27 August 2014
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