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Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems

Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Childcare Facilities

EPA is responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation's drinking water in public water supplies. EPA estimates that approximately 8,000 schools and child care facilities maintain their own water supply and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

There are approximately 98,000 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.

View more information about lead in drinking water.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water 

There is no federal law requiring testing of drinking water in schools and childcare facilities, except for those that have and/or operate their own public water system and therefore are subject to comply with the SDWA. 

EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools was developed to assist schools with lead in drinking water prevention programs. It is intended for use by school officials responsible for the maintenance and/or safety of school facilities including the drinking water. The document introduces the 3Ts for reducing lead in drinking water which includes a training, testing, and telling approach.

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.

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.

  • Historical documents for reference

EPA’s 3Ts was developed to assist schools with lead in drinking water prevention programs. It is intended for use by school officials responsible for the maintenance and/or safety of school’s drinking water. The document introduces the 3Ts for reducing lead in drinking water which includes:

  • Training  school officials to raise awareness of the potential occurrences, causes, and health effects of lead in drinking water.
  • Testing  drinking water in schools to identify potential problems and take corrective actions as necessary.
  • Telling  students, parents, staff, and the larger community about monitoring programs, potential risks, the results of testing, and remediation actions.

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Technical Guidance(104 pp, 3 MB, October 2006, EPA 816-B-05-008, About PDF

3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Child Care Facilities: Revised Guidance(16pp, 483 K, EPA-816-R-05-001, December 2005, About PDF)

Additional 3Ts documents

Fact Sheets and Brochures:

Drinking Water Best Management Practices For Schools and Child Care Facilities

3Ts for Public Water Systems:

Community Partners:

Funding:

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:

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 
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.