HUNDREDS of schools could be at risk of contaminated drinking water due to having excessive lead in their pipes.
The issue, which has been brought to the attention of Environment Minister Alan Kelly, is to be addressed by a major national lead strategy under the direction of Irish Water.
Government sources say a multi-million euro investment is planned to replace pipes in schools, hospitals and other public buildings.
Lead in schools is of partic- ular concern, and is believed to be an issue in hundreds across the country.
Many of the schools affected were built before the 1970s, and so their water supply is at greater risk of contamination.
The Department of Education is expected to provide a list of schools that need work under the strategy.
High lead levels in water pipe systems can pose a severe health risk, with pregnant women and young children the most vulnerable.
The national lead strategy will be announced in the coming weeks in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The strategy is expected to be based on a time-frame of up to 10 years, with a number of short-term goals included.
The problem is not limited to schools. Last month, the Herald reported that northside Labour TD Sean Kenny has called for the introduction of a grant scheme to help in the removal of harmful lead pipes from Dublin homes.
Dublin city alone is known to have several thousand homes that still contain internal lead pipes, Mr Kenny said.
A report by the EPA last year found drinking water for almost one million households is at risk of contamination because of "serious problems" in supplies.
The concern in this report centres on the infrastructure in treatment plants, which the agency says is in need of replacement.
Problems highlighted included a lack of proper management at plants, with improvements to disinfection systems to remove dangerous bugs like E-coli also needed.