The minister announced the move on 8 December, just before the 25 December deadline for EU member states to transpose the European Drinking Water Directive, revising existing EC standards, into national law. The most important change in standards is a reduction in the maximum concentration of lead from the current standard of 50 mg/l (microgrammes per litre) to 25mg/l by 25 December 2003 and 10 mg/l by 2013 (also see related story in ‘Europe’ section this week.

The Directive takes account of the latest scientific and medical advice, as well as recommendations from the World Health Organisation and passed into UK law on 8 December. It follows a consultation in April, which received 1,000 responses, of which the vast majority were concerned solely with proposals to keep national mandatory standards for minimum hardness and sodium. The new Regulations retain a standard for sodium but compliance with the minimum hardness standard will be achieved by administrative means, Meacher said, speaking in Parliament.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate is also preparing comprehensive guidance to assist water companies in meeting the requirements of the Regulations. The Inspectorate will consult water companies on a draft of the guidance when it is ready and the draft will be placed on the Inspectorate’s website Drinking Water Inspectorate, for other interested organisations to comment.

The new Regulations will continue the arrangement which enables customers who are replacing lead pipes in their properties to require water companies to replace them where the final lead standard is breached. Water companies will also be required to replace their lead pipes or fittings where the water breaches whatever lead standard is in force at the time, whether or not customers are replacing their pipes. Companies must also draw up programmes of work to minimise the water’s ability to dissolve lead from pipes, to replace lead pipes where necessary and to comply with the other 39 mandatory standards for drinking water quality which the Regulations contain.

Existing arrangements remain largely unchanged for risk assessment, treatment and monitoring for Cryptosporidium. Also, companies will be required to retain basic water quality information on a zone by zone basis for not less than 30 years and to retain other records for a minimum of 5 years.

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