LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 10 no 1, June 2010 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.
Guest Editor: Monica Maharjan, Master of Science Management and Master of Applied Sciences (Biotechnology).
Editor-in-Chief: Anne Roberts

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Lead Contamination of Drinking Water in India due to PVC Pipes

By Amar Multani, Mechanical Engineer with training in Environmental Engineering,
Edited by Anne Roberts


  Lead content in waterAs per various surveys and investigations conducted by organisations such as the ‘Quality Council of India,’ the presence of ‘lead in water’ has alarmed people and agencies across the country. Thirty three percent of over 370 samples of water from the top 26 cities of India tested positive for harmful content of lead. Out of these, 31% of samples failed to adhere to the World Health Organization (WHO) standards of a lead content of less than 10 ppb (parts per billion), while 2% of the samples failed to meet even the lenient Indian norms of 50 ppb.

 Water High levels of lead

Incidents of high content of lead have been found in ground water (bore well / well water), where as high as 41% samples were unfit for drinking. What is also shocking is that over 15% of Municipal Water had a high content of lead.


Some health effects of Lead poisoning:

  • Disruption of the biosynthesis of haemoglobin & anaemia
  • A rise in blood pressure, & kidney damage
  • Miscarriages and abortions
  • Disruption of nervous systems & brain damage
  • Reduced fertility due to sperm damage
  • Diminished learning abilities in children

Lead Contamination due to PVC pipes is one of the major contributing factors of groundwater pollution in India

Lead poisoning has various long-term negative health effects. It is important to identify the sources of such pollution and to devise methods to eliminate the contributing factors.

In some cases, legislators have to wake up, and make regulations to put controls in place to provide a healthy environment for their citizens.

Sources of lead contamination of potable water supplies & groundwater

  • PVC pipes used in sanitation, plumbing & agriculture
  • Manufacturing of PVC pipes & products
  • Manufacturing of PVC fittings and attachments
  • Recycled plastic PVC

PVC pipes used in sanitation, plumbing & agriculture

Domestic: There are two types of manufacturers distributing PVC pipes in India. There are those whose products are ISI endorsed and certified by the government as good quality, and those who produce non-ISI certified goods, with minimal quality control.

ISI endorsed PVC pipes: These manufacturers are involved in manufacturing goods according to quality standards specified by the government of India.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (which replaced the Indian Standards Institute (ISI) in 1987), has laid down quality standards for the manufacturing Industry to follow. The products are stamped with the ISI mark (or BIS mark), along with the relevant code, e.g. IS 13592, IS 4397, etc. These products are expensive compared to non-ISI marked goods, due to a higher investment in raw materials and laboratory testing.

Non - ISI endorsed PVC pipes: The manufacturers follow their own convenient quality standards and are not controlled by the government. The products are not traceable to any quality standard relevant to mitigation of lead poisoning risk or any other potential risk by consumption of polluted water. These PVC pipes are manufactured and sold for domestic, agricultural & industrial consumption.

PVC plumbing pipes are used in India in some apartments constructed by private builders and contractors with zero or minimal awareness of the hazards of lead poisoning.

The unorganised sector for PVC pipes comprises around 70% of the manufactured goods sold on the basis of ‘Local Brand names,’ with manufacturing units spread across the country and owned by small business families. In order to make huge profits, the quality of the pipes is compromised, and additives called stabilisers and plasticisers containing lead are used extensively. These products do not require any special permission from the government to be sold in the market. Potential buyers are unsuspecting middle class, those with less disposable income, and poor farmers without any consumer awareness of the product, and always looking for a cheap bargain.

In Australia, PVC pipe manufacturers belonging to the Plastics Industry Pipe Association of Australia have agreed to phase out the use of lead stablisers in PVC pipe. The phase-out is expected to be achieved by the end of 2010. (Vinyl Council of Australia, 25 Jun 2009.)

The use of lead-based stabiliser by Indian manufacturers is random. The following link provides information about the numerous manufacturers and distributors of lead-based stabilisers: www.pipa.com.au/docs/FAQPVC.html

These Lead-based stabilisers may be used properly by committed manufacturers of good quality brands, while restricting the use of lead-based stabiliser or lead-free stabilisers. Such manufacturers comprise only about 20-30% of the entire PVC pipe manufacturing industry in India.

On the other hand, low-quality manufacturers are manufacturing PVC pipes with lead-based stabilisers in unregulated quantities, thus compromising the safety of the product .The government in such cases does not restrict the manufacturers from selling their product in the Indian market. Such products are sold in high volumes due to their low price.

The standard formulation of a PVC pipe is as below

Good Quality PVC Pipe

  • PVC resin – 85%
  • Calcium Carbonate -15%
  • One pack/Stabilisers/Plasticisers without Lead or Cadmium -less than 5%

Poor Quality PVC Pipe

  • PVC resin -55%
  • Calcium Carbonate -30%
  • Lead-based one packs/Stabilisers/Plasticisers eg .TBLS & DBLS–more than 15%
  • ( TBLS-Tribasic Lead stearate & DBLS – Dibasic Lead stearate)

The above facts are stated by one Indian manufacturer ‘BALCO’ explicitly on their site as per link right: www.balcogroup.com/products.html

The cost of the PVC resin is almost 4 times that of calcium carbonate, hence more calcium carbonate is used in the pipe, and lead-based stabilisers or plasticisers are added randomly to achieve a stable product which is very cheap compared to a high quality product endorsed by the Indian government ‘ISI mark’.

The leaching of lead in such products may be random and high beyond acceptable limits, and usage of the pipes in household construction or agriculture can cause lead poisoning. The amount of lead-based stabilisers in such products will vary depending upon the manufacturer and the purpose or the specifications of the pipe. These pipes have a very long life - up to 75 years - and the amount of lead that will leach, and the period for which it will leach, needs to be investigated. If the lead continues to leach for long periods, this may affect a large population, and two to three generations living in such residential areas.

The leaching of lead in ISI-endorsed products will definitely be less than non–ISI marked products, and can be reduced to zero by banning of lead-based stabilisers and plasticisers in the PVC industry. 

Households The use of plumbing PVC pipes of poor quality will cause lead poisoning of the water in the kitchens and bathrooms, and ground water pollution in the area. This lead-poisoned water is used for cooking in large quantities in Indian kitchens, and traces of lead may be found in the entire family. In some cases, such pipes are being used in apartments or multi-storeyed buildings, which may pose a risk to a large number of people. The PVC plumbing pipes are cheap compared to galvanised iron pipes, and are more durable, with a longer life and zero corrosion. Therefore, these pipes are preferred by the consumer.

PVC Pipes used for sanitation These pipes may be used for drainage applications and can pollute the groundwater with lead and cadmium, due to the presence of lead & cadmium-based plasticisers or stabilisers.

PVC Pipes used for distribution of water in agricultural fields

These cheap PVC pipes are used extensively by Indian farmers, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana (the food bowl of India), to irrigate the fields with water from tube wells. The lead can find its way in to the groundwater and also into crops.

PVC pipes used for Tube well applications

PVC pipes of large diameter and poor quality are also used by the farmers in fields as outer casing pipes for tube wells. These pipes have a high lead content, and the lead will further pollute ground water as the pipes are permanently in contact with the soil and groundwater.

PVC feeders used in Poultry farming

PVC feeders are also used in poultry farming, to provide the poultry with food and with drinking water. At present there is no standard for measuring lead contamination in Indian poultry products.

Occupational Health & Safety

The manufacturing standards in India prevalent in PVC pipe manufacturing do not take into account the risk of lead poisoning in workers involved in mixing the product in a powder form which can be inhaled. Usually, good brands exhibit ‘Corporate Social Responsibility,’ and take care of their workers and manage the occupational risks in the facility. However, the majority of manufacturers do not follow adequate safety precautions due to the costs involved. Workers in the unorganised sector are regularly exposed to the use of lead-based chemicals, the handling of which may cause lead poisoning. The facts could be investigated by the government by carrying out blood lead level testing of workers involved in the PVC manufacturing industry.

The Solution

  • Banning the use of lead and cadmium-based plasticisers or stabilisers in India is the best solution to eradicate lead pollution
  • Removal of PVC pipes with high lead content from buildings and structures which have direct and indirect impact on the intake of drinking water.
  • Ensuring only good quality PVC pipes are used in the farming Industry and banning the use of PVC pipes with high lead content.
  • Since every child or citizen has the right to a good health & well being, the government should give the highest priority to banning lead-based plasticisers from the PVC Industry.

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