According to a 2016 study, 56 percent of Australian households produce drinking water that contains lead – this is thanks largely to brass plumbing, which leaches lead into the water. A new lead-free brass alloy, however, could help put an end to the problem.
If ingested in large amounts, lead can lead to health problems such as anemia and weakness, along with kidney and brain damage.
In most types of plumbing brass (particularly the older stuff), it takes the form of tiny globules embedded throughout the material. And although these can indeed get into water supplies, they also have their good points – they provide lubrication, which makes the brass easier to machine, and helps brass fixtures to form a watertight seal once installed.
Led by Dr. Kevin Laws, scientists at Australia's University of New South Wales developed a new type of brass – known as bright brass – in which the lead globules are replaced with particles composed of another material. These particles form within the brass as it cools down after casting.
The researchers aren't saying what the secret material is just yet, but it's claimed to provide the lubricating qualities of lead, while being non-toxic to people. Manufacturing can take place at existing facilities, resulting in a finished product that's silver in color, to help visually differentiate it. Laws claims that it's cost-competitive and performs mechanically similarly, if not better, than leaded brass.
Spinoff company Advanced Alloy Holdings is now working on commercializing the bright brass, which could be on the market within a year.
Source: University of New South Wales
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