A Global Commitment to Stop the Flow of Lead in Drinking Water
The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that impairs brain function and irreversibly harms children’s cognitive development. No safe level of lead exposure has been identified. Approximately 1 in every 3 children worldwide (about 800 million children) currently have elevated blood lead levels which may be a significant factor in intellectual disabilities, decreased IQ, and in reducing lifelong earning potential. This makes lead not only a serious and significant public health threat but a key environmental risk factor that can exacerbate inequalities in marginalized groups. Addressing this challenge will require concerted efforts by our cross-sectoral partner organizations, including Member States, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, WASH implementers, water component manufacturers, and academia.
Water is a significant, but relatively easy to address, source of lead exposure. The primary source of lead in drinking-water is lead-leaching parts and materials in water systems, including piped networks, plumbing and fixtures in buildings (e.g., homes and schools), and small water systems (e.g., hand pumps and their components). A WHO Technical Brief issued in August 2022 noted that “Prevention is the most effective action to reduce exposure to lead through drinking water” and encouraged global action.
We are launching this global initiative by bringing together a coalition of government, private sector, and non-government partners focused on reducing morbidity and mortality associated with lead exposure from drinking water. Our cross-sectoral partnership has three objectives:
1. Secure a commitment from governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, multi-lateral financial institutions, and partners in the private sector to eliminate the use of lead-leaching parts in new drinking water systems by 2030 and to progressively work towards making all drinking water lead free by 2040. The pledge commitment and list of founding partners can be accessed on the GlobalLeadFreeWater.org website.
2. GlobalLeadFreeWater.org will become a knowledge hub that summarizes the knowledge and tools to support national governments and implementing partners seeking to establish, monitor, and enforce new regulations and standards, to improve water quality testing, and to implement reforms in the design, construction, building, and commissioning of drinking water supply systems.
3. We will work to develop and codify international standards and guidelines on lead in drinking water and parts used in drinking water systems. And,
4. We will invite other states and organizations to be partners on the pledge and broader initiative and collectively advocate for the progressive elimination of lead and other toxic metals in drinking water systems.
As part of our global commitment to provide water that is free from microbial hazards and priority chemical contaminants that impact human health, this global initiative will work towards preventing lead-leaching from new drinking water systems by 2030 and making all drinking water lead free by 2040. The partners on the Global Pledge to Protect Drinking Water from Lead have agreed to work collectively to protect drinking water from lead through the following actions:
• We will ensure that all new water systems are constructed with products and materials that meet international standards for lead-leaching, material safety, and performance.
• For existing water systems that may contain lead-leaching materials, we will develop and implement plans for periodic water lead monitoring and data sharing, including the transparent communication of monitoring results to communities served.
• We will investigate water systems reporting lead levels at 10 ppb (the WHO guideline value) or above to identify contamination sources and implement necessary interim or long-term remedial measures to reduce human exposure.
• Support communities to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead through education and action such as designating safe taps for drinking and cooking.
• To implement these commitments, we will:
a. Support the adoption of national policies and regulations based on international standards and testing/certification requirements for products and materials used in drinking water systems that address lead-leaching, material safety, and performance.
b. Support manufacturing of products and materials used in drinking water systems that meet international standards for lead-leaching, material safety, and performance.
c. Support affordable access to fittings, fixtures and filters that meet international standards for lead in drinking water.
d. Support the development of low-cost technologies to enable widespread testing for lead in drinking water and materials to better understand the sources, impacts, and mitigation/remediation of lead contamination in drinking water.
e. Support the training and certification of professionals to oversee the design and construction of safe drinking water systems.
f. Support and develop national and local laboratory and monitoring capacity to assess and monitor lead in drinking water and materials to support implementation of these commitments.
g. Support high-quality research to better understand and identify sources, impacts, and effective prevention and remediation methods and approaches to minimize harm from lead in drinking water.
Governments of Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa; World Health Organization; UNICEF; World Vision; WaterAid; International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials; Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; LIXIL; RTI International; Rural Water Sanitation Network; Skat Foundation; University of Leeds; World Plumbing Council; The Water Institute at UNC
SDGS & Targets
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Financial Soundness Indicators
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SDG 14 targets covered
Deliverables & Timeline
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Anyone, especially children and pregnant women, at risk of being exposed to lead from drinking water – particularly those in marginalized communities; governments; development partners; financial institutions; philanthropic organizations; international organizations; analytical laboratories; private sector; manufacturers; suppliers.