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Testing Schools and Child Care Centers for Lead in the Drinking Water

EPA employees taking water sample from water cooler.

Where to sample?
Technically, any outlet for potable water is a potential source of drinking water. Realistically, though, some outlets are regularly used by students and staff for drinking, cooking, or even making coffee. Others, like a mop sink in a utility closet, would rarely be used for consumption. With limited funds, you might want to prioritize sampling sites based on potential use and risk. Also, consider that actual use can change over time. For example, few may drink from a dirty art room sink, but that room use may change.

EPA recommends the following sites as priority sites:

high priority:

Never use hot water for drinking/cooking; lead leaches more easily into hot water than into cold water. The water may also sit in contact with lead components in a hot water tanks for a longer period of time. Consider conducting educational outreach to food preparation staff and appropriate teachers

medium priority:

low priority:

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Before You Sample:

Is the school served by a public water system or is the school its own public water system?

If the school is served by a public water system (it does not have its own well) the school can implement a voluntary lead reduction program.  For more information on beginning a lead reduction program please see EPA’s new 3Ts tool kit and guidance materials.

Know the school's source of water:
If the school is a public water system, EPA's action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead. For schools that receive water from a public water system, obtain a copy of the most current lead test results from the water system.* Water characteristics and test results can help you interpret your sampling results. You can also ask if the water is optimized for corrosion control and if the system has a corrosion control permit. This information will assist you in determining the appropriate remedies to any lead problems identified during the sampling phase.

* Systems are required to distribute, every July, a Consumer Confidence Report that contains this information.

Check for recalled water coolers:
Certain Halsey-Taylor water coolers were recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1990 because they were manufactured with lead-lined tanks. Other coolers had other lead-containing parts or lead solder. EPA Fact Sheet Lead in Drinking Water Coolers (EPA 810-F-90-021) has a list of manufacturers and model numbers of coolers which containlead. Unfortunately, many of these coolers remain in use.

Develop a sampling plan:
A written sampling plan is highly recommended. It will clarify procedures for any personnel, whether employees or contractors, who are involved in the sampling program.

Conduct a pre-sampling inspection. Identify each outlet that will be tested for lead. Check aerators for debris; clean if necessary. Make note of cooler make and model, and any locations where electrical wires are grounded to water pipes. Identify locations of recalled water coolers.

Code each outlet using a system that will allow you to identify each unique outlet by location, type, and other relevant characteristic. (See the following example of a coding system PDF.)

The coding should be identified on a site map and a narrative that describes the location.

Communicate your plans:
Be open about goals to avoid confusion and communication breakdowns at a later stage. Communicate to maintenance staff, teachers, parents, and students about the plan and their roles in it.

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How to sample?

Basic sampling protocol:
This is an overview of the sampling procedures. A more detailed protocol is contained in EPA's guidance document 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance. Persons planning a sampling program should refer to this document.

  1. Determine which outlets will be sampled. Determine priorities and code outlets appropriately. See the example Coding Scheme PDF.
  2. Outlets must be inactive for at least 6-8 hours before testing. (Overnight is best.)
  3. Take a "first draw" 250 ml** sample at each outlet. A "first draw" is the water that is the first to come out of the tap after the period of inactivity.
  4. If lead is suspected throughout system, take a 30 second "flush" sample from outlet(s).
  5. Send samples to a laboratory which is certified to test lead in drinking water.

** This protocol differs from the 1 liter sample required by the Lead and Copper Rule for public water systems. Because the protocol differs, these tests neither replace nor interfere with sampling requirements under the Lead and Copper Rule.

  1. 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance (2005) (PDF 100 pp, 2 M, about PDF)
    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.
  2. 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Child Care Facilities: Revised Guidance (2005) (PDF 28 pp, 960 K, about PDF)
    This booklet is designed for small child care facilities to help them ensure the drinking water in their buildings does not contain elevated levels of lead.

Sample results:
First draw samples of 250 ml will test whether the fixture and immediate piping is contributing lead. If samples results are greater than 20 ppb, conduct follow up sampling, such as a flush sample, to help pinpoint the source of the lead.

What do the data mean?

EPA's recommended action level for lead in drinking water is 20 parts per billion (ppb), which is equivalent to micrograms per liter ( µg/L).

When results of water tests are returned from the laboratory, the data may be expressed in milligrams per liter (mg/L).

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How do we fix the problem?

Solutions to lead problems need to be made on a short-term as well as permanent basis. Routine practices can also be used to reduce possible exposure to lead. Consider using routine practices and short-term measures while waiting for test results. Decisions for one remedy over another will be based on such factors as cost, likelihood of success, availability of water, and staffing requirements.

To help reduce exposure to lead in drinking water some examples of remedies are here. More detailed explanations, including more advantages and disadvantages, are can be found in the 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance (2005).

Routine Practices:

Short-term Measures:

Permanent Remedies:

After obtaining an understanding of your water supply including water characteristics and the lead conditions in the facility as a result of testing, examine permanent remedies and select the most appropriate to the situation.

As you consider remedies, especially when replacing plumbing components, refer to the following documents and links.

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