Department of Health and Human Services investigations have detected high lead levels in a limited number of stainless steel rainwater tanks made in southern Tasmania over the past three years.
Acting Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch said on 1 March 2013 that water tests had revealed lead levels of between 16.1 micrograms per litre and 1370 micrograms per litre - well above safe drinking water guidelines of 10 micrograms per litre.
The stainless steel rainwater tanks were made and sold by Kingston Sheetmetal between March 2010 and January 2013.
"People should not use water from Kingston Sheetmetal stainless steel rainwater tanks for drinking, brushing their teeth or preparing food," Dr Veitch said.
"Parents should supervise children to make sure they don't drink the water.
"Water from the tanks is safe to use for cleaning and washing clothes and dishes, and for showering or bathing.
"If you have been using a Kingston Sheetmetal stainless steel rainwater tank for household drinking water, you should stop using it immediately, and use an alternative drinking water supply.
"If you have been using one of these tanks for your drinking water you should discuss blood lead testing with your general practitioner."
The tanks were made using stainless steel panels joined by 50 per cent lead and 50 per cent tin solder. Australian Standards require jointing materials coming into contact with drinking water to contain no more than 0.1 per cent lead, and not to have a lead concentration in water over 10 micrograms per litre.
About 120 of these tanks have been sold since March 2010, mostly to people in southern Tasmania.
Dr Veitch said the stainless steel rainwater tanks have no manufacturer's label or marks and so must be identified by knowing where and when they were bought.
Records from the manufacturer have enabled only some of the customers to be contacted and personally warned.
Dr Veitch said plants watered from these tanks were unlikely to have absorbed significant quantities of lead.
"However, we recommend people wash plants watered from these tanks with clean reticulated drinking water before cooking and eating.
"People should not use water from these tanks as drinking water for pets or livestock."
Dr Veitch said prolonged exposure to high levels of lead in drinking water could increase blood lead levels and cause a range of health problems.
"The risk is greatest for young children and pregnant women.
"Boiling the water does not remove the lead.
While certain filters reduce lead to levels safe for human consumption we do not recommend using a filter as a long-term solution to this problem," Dr Veitch said.
"If you are using a filter, you should check with the manufacturer whether it removes lead."
Stainless steel tanks made using solder containing less than 0.1 per cent lead, or using other construction methods such as rivets and silicone sealant are not part of this Public Health Warning.
"If you are unsure about other brands of stainless steel rainwater tank, contact the point of sale or manufacturer and ask how it was made and what sort of solder, if any, was used.
"If you cannot identify the manufacturer of your tank, you may wish to contact an appropriate laboratory to have the water tested for lead."
Two laboratories in Tasmania are NATA-accredited for testing lead in water: Analytical Services Tasmania (in Hobart) and Tasmanian Laboratory Services (in Launceston).
"Please follow their instructions on collecting a sample and specify it is water used for drinking.
"Any tests of drinking water showing lead concentrations over 10 micrograms per litre must be notified to the Department of Health and Human Services - this will be done by the laboratory," Dr Veitch said.
The Public Heath Hotline 1800 671 738 can provide further advice on health-related matters concerning this warning.
Department of Health and Human Services investigations are ongoing.
Owners of these rainwater tanks may wish to approach Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading for information about their rights on 1300 654 499.
For more information visit www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/peh/alerts
1 March 2013