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Developing statistical methods to estimate the number of domestic properties with internal lead piping in Scotland

School of Mathematics

About the Project

About the Project
For more information on this E4 DTP project please visit

Lead (Pb) is ubiquitous in UK household plumbing systems. Exposure to lead in drinking water can have serious effects on human health and cause neurodevelopmental problems in children. The Scottish Government, working via the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland (DWQR) and Scottish Water, has reduced the number of Pb pipes in the Scottish water distribution network, but a large number of houses still have internal Pb (piping, solder, storage tanks) which could contaminate tap water. Researchers in the Schools of Mathematics, GeoSciences and Chemistry worked with the DWQR and Scottish Water to construct a statistical model to estimate the total number of houses with internal Pb and identify areas likely to have greater proportions of such houses. Our complementary surveys of tap water suggested that this model fitted real data well in some areas, but performed poorly in areas predicted to have low numbers of houses with internal Pb. The main limitations of the current model are that it does not account for spatial autocorrelation within the data and sampling uncertainty introduced by taking a single sample per postcode. The aim of this project is to develop novel statistical methods that deal with these limitations as well as increasing the spatial coverage of the model and validating the model using appropriate statistical techniques and further tap water sampling. In addition to those in the Schools of Mathematics, GeoSciences and Chemistry, this interdisciplinary project will include collaborators in the water industry who will provide access to new data sets for model development. The project will allow the DWQR to better estimate the current extent of internal lead piping in properties across Scotland, estimate the scale of work involved with removing lead piping from residential properties and the effect this will have on improving health in Scotland.

Specific Questions:
1. How well does the current statistical model fit available sampling data (collected from two previous sampling rounds carried out in 2020)?
2. To what extent do improvements made to the model improve predictions?
3. How can uncertainty in the model be quantified? Use statistical methods to identify and quantify different sources of uncertainty in model predictions in order to identify where uncertainty can be reduced.
4. Is it possible to determine the source of lead in tap water samples? Use data collected from tap water sampling to explore whether it is possible to distinguish between lead that enters drinking water from lead soldering or from internal fittings.

CASE partner: Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland

Funding Notes

Please see: View Website
for all application information including eligibility and funding.

UKRI has announced that international students will be eligible for all UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships from the start of the 2021/22 academic year and that they will be eligible for the full award - both the stipend to support living costs, and fees at research organisations UK rate (Home fees).

The University of Edinburgh will cover the difference between Home fees and International fees meaning that it will not be necessary for International applicants offered an E4 DTP project to find additional funding to cover the home/international fees gap.


Emmanuel, E., Angerville, R., Joseph, O., Perrodin, Y. (2007) Human health risk assessment of lead in drinking water: a case study from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. International Journal of Environment and Pollution 31 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1504/IJEP.2007.016496

Hayes, C.R., Skubala, N.D. (2009) Is there still a problem with lead in drinking water in the European Union? Water and Health 7: 569 – 580. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2166/wh.2009.110

Moorbath, S.E. (1962) Lead isotope abundance studies on mineral occurrences in the British Isles and their geological significance. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 254 DOI https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.1962.0001

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