Bottle-fed babies 'at risk of lead poisoning'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MORE than half a million bottle-fed babies in England and Wales are at risk from lead poisoning, according to a report published yesterday by the Liberal Democrats.

Simon Hughes, the party's environment spokesman, said that last year water from one in four supply zones was found to contain more than five times the lead limit laid down by the World Health Organisation.

The report claims that more than 12.5 million people in England and Wales were at risk from excess lead in drinking water in 1991 even under the United Kingdom standards, which are less strict than the WHO guideline.

Launching the report, Poison in the Pipeline? Mr Hughes said: 'Excess lead can cause mental retardation and hyperactivity in children. In severe cases it can even lead to kidney failure. Bottle-fed babies are particularly at risk because 90 per cent of their intake is water. Customers deserve water that is pure not poisoned. The water companies are making a killing, but in many cases not supplying a healthy product.'

The report lists a 'dirty dozen' water companies with the highest percentage of supply zones with excess lead. North-West Water comes top with 72 per cent, followed by Sunderland, 67 per cent, Northumbria, 56 per cent, East Surrey, 47 percent, and York, 40 per cent.

Mr Hughes has written to Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, urging him to 'get tough' with offending water companies. He wants the Government to instruct the companies to replace lead piping and bring UK lead limits into line with current WHO advice.

But the Water Services Association, which represents the water companies, rejected the claim that drinking water supplied by them was 'poisoned' by lead. It said water from water treatment works 'is virtually lead-free' and all water supplied met the UK standard.