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Eye lead poisoning concern sparks water pipe replacement project

A major programme of work to replace water pipes could get under way in Eye after incidents of lead poisoning were reported.

Several people are said to have felt unwell at the end of last year, with subsequent tests showing high levels of lead in their blood.

Initial investigations have suggested that the problem may have originated from old water pipes in the town centre, which are thought to date back to the 1800s.

Eye Mayor Johnnie Walker outside the Town Hall in Eye.
Eye Mayor Johnnie Walker outside the Town Hall in Eye.

Following the adverse test results, water quality concerns were brought to the attention of Eye Town Council, which invited Essex and Suffolk Water, which is responsible for the water supply, to a full council meeting to answer public questions.

Following this, the utility company has moved quickly to secure funding to ensure that a lead pipe replacement scheme is ready to be rolled out to affected households.

Essex and Suffolk Water, which will finance the project, will seek to replace piping leading from homes to the main supply.

Town mayor Johnnie Walker said: “It started out with residents feeling unwell and bringing complaints to the council about test results showing high lead levels.

“We had children and grandchildren affected, so it was very alarming for us.

“We don’t know exactly how many people were affected by it, but the pipes served Truck Street, Castle Street, Lambert Street, Broad Street and Magdalen Street, so it’s the town centre, essentially.”

Work on the replacement scheme will get under way once a consultation survey, which will begin at the end of this month, has been completed. This will establish which households wish to have pipes supplying water to their homes replaced, free of charge.

“We had around 60 people show up for a public meeting, and Essex and Suffolk Water were shocked by what they heard,” said Cllr Walker.

“Their actions from there were very speedy and I take my hat off to them for that.

“They quickly got funding approved to get this project under way and start consulting the people of Eye to see who needed pipes replacing, and they will be carrying out that work free of charge.”

The survey is of homes and businesses in the town centre that wish this work to be carried, with the aim of reducing any chance of lead contamination in the future.

Excavations are due to begin in May, and possible road closures and roadworks may be necessary for some of the work to be carried out.

Mr Walker added: “There will be an office space run by the contractor during the work, where the public can check on progress and we hope that will be on the ground floor of Eye Volunteer Centre.

“There will be roadworks going on as part of this, and that brings disruption, but it’s for a very important reason.

“We won’t know exactly how much disruption there will be until we know exactly how many people request work be carried out, but contractors will be keeping in touch with the public.”

A spokesman for Essex and Suffolk Water said: “After positive discussions with Eye Town Council and customers in the area, we are now in the planning stages of work to replace the old pipes that connect homes across the area to our water main, where those properties are connected with lead pipes.

“This will build upon work we have already completed to make changes at a number of individual homes. Where required, the pipes from the main to the customers’ taps would be replaced free of charge.

“Planning of this larger project will involve discussions with the customers whose homes are still connected via lead pipes, so they can understand the work required near their homes and the benefits of these upgrades, giving them the choice of whether they wish their properties to be included.

“We will continue to work closely with those customers involved, and with local authorities and partners, as these plans progress.”

Eye Town Council released a progress report this week, thanking residents for bringing water quality issues to its attention.

It said: “Our thanks to the residents who have taken action to bring the water quality issues to us to enable this action to happen for the whole community of Eye.

“I am pleased to confirm that the project will be commencing in March or April.

“Our project manager, Daren Still, along with our partner contractor T4, will shortly begin engaging with the county council and, in particular, with its highways department.”

Affected households will be kept informed through a WhatsApp service, as well as the town council website at www.eyesuffolk.org.