Lead water pipes which serve around 700 homes in Bedford are to be removed at a cost of over half a million pounds.

They are being replaced with plastic pipes ahead of new European standards on the amount of lead allowed in drinking water.

Work on phase two starts this week and will target a further 18 streets in the areas around South Goldington, Queens Park, Bedford town centre, as well as some in the Southend area of the town. Phase one was completed in October 2013, with work carried out replacing 1324 lead pipes in these areas.

The next phase of the project is expected to take until January 2015 to complete.

The new European standards, which came into force last year, mean the limit on lead in drinking water has more than halved, from 25 to 10 parts per billion.

Bedford was one of the first places to benefit from the replacement work because of the town’s high number of older properties, which are served by lead pipes. The completion of phase two will mean over £1 million has been invested in the replacement programme for over 2000 homes across the town.

Kate Willis, Lead Strategy Manager for Anglian Water, said: “Awareness of levels of lead in the environment has increased during recent years with moves to lead free petrol and paints.

“Where very small quantities of lead are found in tap water, it’s usually found to come from old lead pipe work which connects the property to the water main or in the internal plumbing. In Bedford we are now replacing large amounts of that old pipework as part of our continual programme of investment in improving water quality.

She added: “With work on this scale there will inevitably be some disruption. We are working closely with Bedfordshire County Council to keep this to a minimum and there are currently no plans to close roads as part of this replacement work.

“We will keep people informed throughout the work with letters and updates to our website.”

The work only covers those pipes, known as communications pipes, which are owned by Anglian Water and which connect the water mains to people’s private service pipes.

The service pipes, which run from the building to the property boundary with the street, are the responsibility of the property owner.

Kate added: “It is likely that if our communications pipe is lead then your service pipes will be too.

“The surest way to prevent lead getting into your drinking water is to replace all lead pipework; however you can take steps to reduce the amount of lead levels at your tap.”