Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems

Drinking Water at Schools and Child Care Facilities

Summary

This page provides information about drinking water quality in schools and child care facilities. The focus of this page is on lead in drinking water at schools and child care facilities. This website will provide you with:

  • Information about the sources of lead in drinking water,
  • Guidance materials to assist with testing for lead in drinking water, and
  • Information on the laws and regulations concerning lead in drinking water.

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Basic Information

On this page:


Overview

EPA is responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation's drinking water in public water supplies. EPA estimates that approximately 10,000 schools and child care facilities maintain their own water supply and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

There are approximately 90,000 public schools  and 500,000 child care facilities not regulated under the SDWA. These unregulated schools and child care facilities may or may not be conducting voluntary drinking water quality testing.

Exposure to lead is a significant health concern. The growing bodies of children and infants absorb more lead than the average adult. Drinking water is one possible, but not the only, source of lead exposure. Infants whose diets consist of formula may get lead exposure from tap water used to make the formula.

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Sources of lead in drinking water

Most sources of drinking water have no lead or very low levels of lead. Most lead gets into drinking water after the water leaves the local well or treatment plant and comes into contact with plumbing materials containing lead. These plumbing components include:

  • Lead pipes and lead solder (commonly used until 1986)
  • Faucets, valves, and other components made of brass

The physical and chemical interactions that occur between the water and plumbing are referred to as corrosion. Corrosion contributes to the amount of lead that can be released from plumbing components into drinking water.

A facility may have too much lead in its drinking water because of the plumbing. The potential for lead to leach into drinking water increases with the time the water is in contact with lead plumbing. The time lead may leach into drinking water can vary between facilities.

Facilities with intermittent water use may have elevated lead concentrations because the water is in contact with the plumbing components for a longer time. Testing drinking water at the taps for lead is important at these facilities. Drinking water taps are locations where water may be accessed for consumption such as:

  • A drinking fountain
  • A water faucet

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Many factors influence corrosion

The corrosion of lead tends to occur more frequently in:

  • "Soft" water (water that lathers soap easily)
  • Acidic (low pH) water

Other factors that may contribute to the corrosion potential of the water include:

  • Water velocity
  • Temperature
  • Alkalinity
  • Chlorine levels
  • The age and condition of plumbing
  • The amount of time water is in contact with plumbing

The occurrence and rate of corrosion depend on the complex interaction between a number of these and other chemical, physical, and biological factors.

Background documents regarding schools and child care facilities and lead in drinking water

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Laws and regulations

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was originally passed by Congress in 1974 and amended in 1986 and 1996. The SDWA is designed to protect public health by regulating the nation's public drinking water supply. The law requires many actions to protect drinking water.

EPA does not regulate bottled water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures the quality and safety of bottled water. For more information on regulation of bottled water, visit FDA's website.

How drinking water is regulated

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. Drinking water often picks up low levels of some contaminants as it flows. These contaminants usually are not detected at harmful levels.

Public water suppliers monitor drinking water to make sure it complies with science-based public health standards. EPA sets maximum allowable levels of contaminants in drinking water under the SDWA. EPA has set standards for over 90 contaminants. People at the federal, state, tribal and local levels work together to protect public water supplies.

Federal standards do not apply to private wells (individual wells serving fewer than 25 persons). People receiving water from private wells are responsible for ensuring their drinking water is safe. Some states do set standards for private wells. Well owners should check their state requirements.

How lead in drinking water is regulated

There are several specific provisions under the SDWA for controlling lead in drinking water:

Ban on lead

The 1986 SDWA Lead Ban requires the use of "lead-free" pipe, solder, and flux. “Lead-free” materials must be used in:

  • The installation or repair of any public water system (PWS)
  • Any plumbing in a residential or non-residential facility providing water for human consumption

Solders and flux are considered to be lead-free when they contain less than 0.2 percent lead. Before this ban, solders used to join water pipes typically contained about 50 percent lead. Pipes and pipe fittings are considered lead-free when they contain less than 0.25 percent lead. Plumbing fixtures that are not "lead free" were banned from sale after August 6, 1998.

More information can be found on the lead ban page.

Lead Contamination and Control Act (LCCA)

The 1988 Lead Contamination Control Act aims to reduce lead exposure and the health risks. The LCCA looks to also reduce lead levels in drinking water at schools and child care centers. The LCCA:

  • Created lead monitoring and reporting requirements for all schools
  • Required the replacement of drinking water fixtures that contained excessive levels of lead

States have the option to voluntarily enforce the LCCA through their own authorities.

Lead and Copper Rule (LCR)

The 1991 Lead and Copper Rule requires public water suppliers to monitor for lead in drinking water. The LCR requires treatment for corrosive water if lead or copper are found at unacceptable levels. Public water suppliers are required to test drinking water lead levels in individual residences.

Unless a school is a public water system (PWS), testing for lead and copper is voluntary. Therefore, many schools served by PWSs that are owned by cities, towns, or other entities may have never been tested for lead under the LCR. EPA strongly recommends that schools test drinking water in their facilities for lead.

If schools and child care facilities meet the definition of a PWS, they are regulated under the SDWA. Facilities meet the definition of a PWS if they provide water for consumption to an average of at least 25 individuals a day using their own water source (e.g., a well). The state drinking water program makes this designation.

The following quick reference guide is a reference for schools and child care facilities subject to the LCR.

Preamble to the Lead and Copper Rule

The preamble language to the LCR provides an explanation for the different actions levels for lead. The LCR differs for regulated and non-regulated schools and child care facilities.

Public water supply testing versus testing at schools

The lead testing protocols used by PWSs are aimed at identifying system-wide problems. They are not aimed at outlets and taps in individual buildings. Moreover, the protocols for sample size and sampling procedures for PWS compared to schools and child care facilities are different.

Under the LCR for PWSs:

  • A lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) is established for one liter samples taken at high-risk residences.
  • If more than 10 percent of the samples at residences exceeds 15 ppb, system-wide corrosion control treatment may be necessary.
  • The 15 ppb action level for PWSs is therefore a trigger for treatment rather than a health-based or exposure level.

EPA recommends that schools collect 250 ml first-draw samples from water fountains and outlets. EPA recommends outlets be taken out of service if the lead level exceeds 20 ppb. The sample size was designed to identify specific fountains and faucets that required remediation. The school sampling protocol maximizes the likelihood that the highest concentrations of lead are found. The first 250mL are analyzed for lead levels after water has sat in plumbing overnight.

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Guidance and tools

There is information to assist schools and child care facilities in their efforts to improve water quality. EPA has published guidance on reducing lead in drinking water.

Some schools and child care facilities meet the definition of a PWS. They are regulated under the SDWA. If your facility regularly provides water for human consumption to an average of at least 25 individuals a day AND:

  • Has its own water source (i.e., a well), or
  • Treats the water, or
  • Sells the water, then

you meet the definition of a public water system and you must comply with the provisions of the SDWA. Your state drinking water program makes this designation.

On this page:


Schools and child care facilities regulated under the SDWA

These guidance documents provide information to school officials and child care providers on the regulatory requirements you must comply with as a regulated PWS.

Drinking Water Best Management Practices for Schools and Child Care Facilities With Their Own Drinking Water Source

This guide describes the best management practices for drinking water in a school or child care facility that is a public water system. The document details:

Lead and Copper Rule: A Quick Reference Guide for Schools and Child Care Facilities that Are Regulated Under the Safe Drinking Water Act

This document is for schools and child care facilities that are subject to regulation under SDWA. EPA has developed a quick reference guide to help PWS understand the LCR requirements.

Are You Providing Safe Drinking Water at Your School?

The brochure addresses drinking water issues for schools including lead in drinking water, source water protection, water conservation, cross-contamination, and security.

Point-of-Use/Point-of-Entry Treatment Devices

This document provides guidance on all aspects of implementing a successful Point-of-Use or Point-of-Entry treatment strategy.

Arsenic and your Distribution System

This fact sheet helps water system owners and operators understand and respond to issues that may arise with arsenic in the distribution system or with distribution system concerns resulting from the installation of arsenic treatment.

Arsenic Case Studies

These two case studies are in Michigan and Seattle, Washington.

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Non-SDWA Regulated Schools and Child Care Centers

These guidance documents provide information to school officials and child care providers not regulated by the SDWA. They explain how to implement voluntary programs. They also include policies to ensure water quality in your facility.

Drinking Water Best Management Practices For Schools and Child Care Facilities Served by Municipal Water Systems

This guide describes best management practices for schools or child care facilities served by a PWS. The document details:


3Ts Guidance and Toolkit

This document provides an overview of the steps school officials should take to implement programs aimed at reducing children's exposure to lead in drinking water in schools. This serves as a companion document to the revised technical guidance.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance - Revised Octber 27, 2006

EPA has developed the 3Ts (Training, Testing, and Telling) to help schools implement simple strategies for managing the health risks of lead in schools and drinking water.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Child Care Facilities: Revised Guidance

This booklet is designed for small child care facilities. It will help ensure their drinking water does not contain elevated levels of lead.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities Toolkit

The toolkit is for schools and child care facilities to assistt their efforts to develop programs and policies to reduce lead levels. It includes supplemental materials, such as templates and fact sheets.

Is there Lead in the Drinking Water? You can reduce the risk of lead exposure from drinking water in educational facilities

A brochure on reducing the risk of lead exposure from drinking water in educational facilities.

You can order these documents and the full toolkit through The National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP) (formerly NCEPI), a central repository of more than 7,000 EPA documents in paper and/or electronic format available for free distribution.

Browse and search our National Publications Catalog or order EPA Publications online or by telephone at 1-800-490-9198.

For further information about EPA’s 3Ts outreach campaign and how to assist schools and childcare centers in your community visit EPA's 3Ts Guidance and Tool Kit page.


Funding Options

Water Quality Funding Sources for Schools: A Resource for K-12 Schools and Child Care Facilities

This guide helps identify potential funding sources for water quality related projects. This guide can also identify funding sources for programs related to children’s health and environment. To help you navigate this resource this information is available as a PDF document and as a sortable Excel document.

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Community Partners

3Ts – Training, Testing, and Telling: Join EPA’s effort to help minimize lead levels in school and child care facility drinking water - A Guide for Community Partners

The guide is a call for:

  • Civic groups,
  • Corporations,
  • Public authorities, and
  • The media

to join forces in bringing this critical health issue to the forefront.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities: Fact Sheet for Public Water Suppliers

This fact sheet provides information for drinking water suppliers on options to provide assistance to schools and child care facilities to implement programs to reduce lead in drinking water.

Also visit the school's partners tab for more information.


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Health effects

Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful to human health. Lead has no known value to the human body. The human body cannot tell the difference between lead and calcium.

Calcium is a mineral that strengthens the bones. Like calcium, lead remains in the bloodstream and body organs for a few months. What is not excreted is absorbed into bones, where it can collect for a lifetime.

Young children, those six years and younger, are at particular risk for lead exposure. They have frequent hand-to-mouth activity and absorb lead more easily than do adults. Children's nervous systems are still undergoing development. Therefore, they are more susceptible to the effects of toxic agents.

Lead is also harmful to the developing fetuses of pregnant women.

No safe blood lead level in children has been determined. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system (brain), particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.

Low levels of lead in blood (those below 10 µg/dL) have been associated with:

  • Reduced IQ and attention span
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor classroom performance
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impaired growth
  • Hearing loss

Very high blood lead levels (70 µg/dL or greater) can cause severe neurological problems. These include coma, convulsions, and even death. The only method to determine a child's lead level is a blood lead test.

The degree of harm from lead exposure depends on a number of factors including:

  • The frequency
  • Duration
  • Dose of the exposures(s)
  • Individual susceptibility factors (e.g., age, previous exposure history, nutrition, and health)

The degree of harm also depends on one's exposure to lead from the environment, including from:

  • Air
  • Soil
  • Dust
  • Food
  • Water

Lead in drinking water may be a significant contributor to overall exposure to lead. This is true particularly for infants whose diet consists of liquids made with water. This includes baby food and formula.

Partners

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to promote voluntary efforts to reduce children's lead exposure while at school with:

  • Several federal agencies,
  • State drinking water programs, and
  • Drinking water associations that represent public water systems (PWSs)

The MOU represents an unprecedented partnership to focus attention on testing for lead in drinking water for schools and child care facilities between:

  • EPA,
  • The Department of Education,
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  • American Water Works Association,
  • Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies,
  • National Association of Water Companies,
  • National Rural Water Association, and
  • The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators.

The signatories have agreed to encourage schools and child care facilities to take action. Actions include testing drinking water for lead; disseminating results; and taking appropriate and necessary steps to correct problems. The signatories also agree to encourage PWSs to assist schools and child care facilities in understanding and reducing lead exposure from drinking water.

Relevant Documents

Partnering in your Community – A Guide for Community Partners

EPA recently launched a campaign: 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities. It is aimed at encouraging voluntary actions to reduce potential exposure to lead in drinking water. Part of EPA’s “3Ts – Training, Testing, and Telling” initiative is a call for

  • Civic groups,
  • Corporations,
  • Public authorities, and
  • The media

to join forces in bringing this critical health issue to the forefront.

The Guide for Community Partners offers materials and templates. This will help your organization to implement a local program of education and advocacy.

By lending your organization’s support, you can help raise your community’s awareness of:

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Related Links

For additional information on specific topics visit the websites below:

Healthy School Environments

Healthy School Environments

This EPA website provides one-stop access to many programs and resources to help prevent and resolve environmental issues in schools.

Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Exit
This Department of Education website offers resources on various school health and safety topics.

Lead Poisoning Prevention

Lead Poisoning Prevention

EPA's Lead Awareness Program:

  • Designs outreach activities and educational materials,
  • Awards grants, and
  • Manages a toll-free hotline to help parents, homeowners, and lead professionals learn what they can do to protect their families, and themselves, from the dangers of lead.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention ProgramExitExit
The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 authorized the CDC to initiate program efforts. Programs will aim to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the United States. Visit this website for information on partnerships, publications, and various other materials.

National Lead Information Center (NLIC)Exit
The NLIC provides the general public and professionals with information about lead hazards and prevention. The NLIC operates under a contract with EPA. It receives funding from:

  • EPA,
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Kid's Health

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs)Exit

The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the EPA has established a network of Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs). The PEHSUs have been developed to provide education and consultation for:

  • Health professionals,
  • Public health professionals, and
  • Others about the topic of children's environmental health.

Children and Drinking Water Standards
This booklet explains how national standards contribute to drinking water safety. It helps readers make informed, reasonable choices about the water they and their children drink.

Testing Schools and Child Care Centers for Lead in the Drinking Water
This page provides resources to effectively test for lead in schools and child care centers.