October 16, 2019

Helping vocational skills teachers understand the facts about professional Lead Solder use

Aims of the article

Owing to the uneven way knowledge is distributed in society, Teachers in the Vocational Skills industry are often uninformed about key changes to technical safety legislation, concerning their occupational field.

This paper aims to help Teachers in plumbing, heating and gas to acknowledge the problems with lead solder and the statutory rules for users of lead solder. 

Risks with Lead

The risks of lead are well documented. The World Health Organisation have classified lead as one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern, along with mercury, asbestos and fluoride. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead and the toxin can lead to ADHD and other neurological development problems – in pregnant women the foetus can be harmed. In short, lead poisoning in children has a life-long impact on their learning, employment opportunities and general health. For adults, low-level lead poisoning has been linked to cardio vascular disease.

Location of lead risks

Our cities are built on lead which once had uses in fuel, paint and plumbing. Although lead is now illegal in fuel and paint there is confusion about the legality of lead in the UK for plumbing purposes. UK Plumbing and representative organisations for water authorities have published articles in the past year (2019) suggesting it is safe to use lead solder because the substance is still on sale in the UK to professional users.

On the 1st of March 2018 the harmonised standard for lead was agreed and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK published a safety bulletin (see below) in relation to Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The HSE is the UK competent authority for REACH in the United Kingdom.

HSE bulletin on restriction of sale of lead solder

The UK plumbing and water authorities argued that UK professional users of lead solder can install heating and gas pipework systems in buildings, provided precautions are taken when connecting these toxic heating systems to drinking water supplies. They stated that necessary backflow protection must be used when connecting toxic heating systems to drinking water for filling. However, responded to these articles arguing that lead solder is not legal to use on heating systems (here) or gas pipework (here) in any buildings.

Lead solder used extensively in Vocational Skills Colleges in UK

Owing to the misinterpretation of the HSE bulletin, have extensive evidence that Gas Safe Registered installers, plumbers and Further Education colleges have continued to use lead solder for training purposes which presents a significant danger to the public (see here).

The Facts on the ‘Professional Use’ of Lead Solder have argued that there is no place for lead solder in buildings which is inline with the World Health Organisation guidelines adopted under the current recasting of the EU drinking water directive.

According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) only one professional use of lead as a substance (in a mixture) was recognised – that is the professional use of lead solder in solder alloys in some electrical and electronic components. Such uses are already regulated through RoHS and WEEE Regulations and are only permitted where no alternative exists due to technical and safety issues (see here).

Given that lead-free solder is a practical and cost-effective alternative to lead-solder there is no justification for the professional use of lead-solder in colleges for training or for pipe installations in buildings.

This paper supports European Skills Week 2019, incorporating World Health Organisation “International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2019” – is a registered contributor for both events.