Frequently Asked Questions
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lead Testing in Drinking Water
The goal of this project is to reduce Bemidji Area children’s lead exposure at Tribal Education Agencies (TEAs) by testing for lead, identifying potential lead sources, and taking action. The following is a list of frequently asked questions following the release of EPA’s revised 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water toolkit. These questions were received from states, schools, and other stakeholders through the EPA hotline, EPA webinars and presentations.
Using the priorities listed above, this testing effort includes the goals of:
- Testing all outlets used for consumption at all TEAs in the Bemidji Area by the end of the project period.
- Providing education about lead and the importance of testing to all Bemidji Area TEAs.
- Providing education and recommendations for routine maintenance and lead mitigation practices at all TEAs, where appropriate.
Lead in Drinking Water FAQ
What is lead?
Lead is a metal that is toxic when ingested. It was used for many years in products found in and around homes. Even at low levels, lead can cause a range of health effects such as behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
How does lead get into drinking water?
The two major sources of lead in drinking water are plumbing systems; and natural deposits. Lead enters the water (“leaches”) through contact with lead plumbing or through corrosion – dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. Lead can leach into water from pipes, solder, fixtures and faucets (brass), and fittings. The amount of lead in your water depends on the minerals in the water, the amount of time the water stays in the pipes, the condition of the pipes, the water’s acidity, and the water’s temperature. EPA estimates that 20 percent or more of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
Is lead in drinking water the only potential source of lead exposure for kids?
No. Children can be exposed to lead from paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. Lead can also be brought into homes on clothes and shoes after exposure from leaded dirt, and industrial processes that involves lead. Be sure to change and wash clothes, remove shoes, and shower to avoid tracking lead into the home from soil, work sites, or hobbies. If a child has an elevated blood lead level, it is likely due to lead exposures from a combination of sources.
Lead can be found throughout a child’s environment:
- Homes and schools built before 1978 (when lead-based paints were banned) probably contain lead-based paint. When the paint peels and cracks, it makes lead dust. Children can be poisoned when they swallow or breathe in lead dust.
- Certain water pipes may contain lead from lead-based solder or lead pipes.
- Lead can be found in some products such as toys and jewelry.
- Children who live near airports may be exposed to lead in air and soil from aviation gas.
Why is there no safe level of lead in drinking water?
EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time.
Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that public health actions be initiated when the level of lead in a child’s blood is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or more.
It is important to recognize all the ways a child can be exposed to lead. Children are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water. If the level of lead in a child's blood is at or above the CDC action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, it may be due to lead exposures from a combination of sources. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
Can you see lead in water?
No, you cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water. The best way to know your risk of exposure to lead in drinking water is to find out if there is lead in your water service lines and household plumbing fixtures. Your local water authority is your first source of information about the lead content of your tap water.
Why is lead a concern in schools and child care centers?
There are several factors that make schools a primary focus when limiting lead exposure in children:
- The extended periods of time children spend in school and child care facilities.
- The age of buildings, plumbing and fixtures that are subject to corrosion and the leaching of lead into drinking water.
- The on again/off again water use patterns that promote corrosion as water stands in plumbing pipes when it’s not in use
Is it safe to shower or bathe with lead in the water? Can babies be bathed in tap water?
Yes, it is safe to shower and bath in water that has lead in it. Your skin does not absorb lead in water. Bathing and showering in unfiltered water is still safe for children and adults. It is safe even if the skin has minor cuts or scrapes. However, never drink bathwater, and do not allow babies and children to drink bathwater.
Can water contaminated with lead hurt children?
Yes, there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. It may not have obvious symptoms, so people might not realize they have too much lead in their bodies. For young children, exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities. The only way to know if you have lead in your body is to get tested. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that there is no known safe blood lead level in children.
How do I know if my child has lead poisoning?
The only way to know if your child has elevated blood levels is to have them tested by a medical provider or at a local health center. There is no safe blood lead level. In children, even low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, and impaired hearing. If you are concerned about your child’s exposure to lead, contact a health provider to learn more about blood lead testing. The only way to determine a child’s lead level is to have the child’s blood tested.
What are aerators and when should they be cleaned?
Aerators are screens on faucets or sinks called aerators. Aerators help keep pieces of lead and other particles from getting into your water. Clean your drinking water faucet aerator at least every six months. If there is construction or repairs to the public water system or pipes near your home, clean your drinking water faucet aerator every month until the work is done.
What is water flushing?
“Flushing” involves opening taps and letting drinking water run to remove water that has been standing in the interior pipes and/or the outlets. The flushing time can vary by the type of outlet being cleared.
The degree to which flushing helps reduce lead levels can also vary depending upon the age and condition of the plumbing and the corrosiveness of the water. Flushing is a tool, but only when used appropriately. This fact sheet helps you understand when flushing should be used, when it shouldn’t, the pros and cons, and how to conduct flushing in your facility.
How can “flushing” drinking water improve quality?
In schools and child care facilities, establishing an ongoing flushing program is one of the quickest and easiest short-term solutions to ensure the water quality is preserved by decreasing water age. In addition, flushing does not require installation or maintenance of water treatment equipment or complex instructions. Flushing can be used as a regular practice to ensure the water is regularly moving.
Is there a cure for lead poisoning?
There is no cure for lead poisoning. That is why preventing exposure to lead, especially among children, is important. Finding and removing sources of lead from the child’s environment is needed to prevent further exposure.
While there is no cure, parents can help reduce the effects of lead by talking to their doctor and getting connected to learning, nutritional, and behavioral programs as soon as possible. A summary of recommendations for follow-up and case management of children, based on confirmed blood lead levels, can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/advisory/acclpp/actions-blls.htm.
What are important steps I can take to reduce the lead in my drinking water?
- Learn about construction in your neighborhood. Be aware of any construction or maintenance work that could disturb your lead service line. Construction may cause more lead to be released from a lead service line.
- Use cold water. Use only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Remember, boiling water does not remove lead from water.
- Clean your aerator. Regularly clean your faucet’s screen (also known as an aerator). Sediment, debris, and lead particles can collect in your aerator. If lead particles are caught in the aerator, lead can get into your water.
- Use your filter properly. If you use a filter, make sure you use a filter certified to remove lead. Read the directions to learn how to properly install and use your cartridge and when to replace it. Using the cartridge after it has expired can make it less effective at removing lead. Do not run hot water through the filter.
Lead Testing in Drinking Water Project FAQ
What are the objectives of this grant program?
The principal objective of the assistance to be awarded under this program is to provide grants to states and territories to help assist schools and child care programs to test for lead in drinking water, utilizing EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities guidance or applicable state regulations or guidance regarding reducing lead in drinking water in schools and child care programs that are not less stringent. The goals of the grant program are to:
- Reduce children’s exposure to lead in drinking water
- Help states target funding toward schools unable to pay for testing
- Utilize the 3Ts model to establish best practices for a lead in drinking water prevention program
- Foster sustainable partnerships at the state and local level to allow for more efficient use of existing resources and exchange of information among experts in various education and health sectors
- Enhance community, parent, and teacher cooperation and trust
Who can participate in this program?
Any Tribal education agencies (TEAs) in testing for lead contamination in drinking water at schools and head start/early childhood/child care programs within the Indian Health Service Bemidji Area (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin).
Are schools and child care facilities required to test for lead in drinking water?
There are no federal regulations that require testing of drinking water in schools and childcare facilities, except for those that are public water systems and therefore are subject to comply with the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR). States and local jurisdictions may establish their own voluntary or mandatory programs for testing drinking water in schools and child care facilities.
How do I find out if my child’s school or child care facility has tested the drinking water for lead?
Contact your school administrator or your local public water system to learn more about previous or ongoing efforts to test for and reduce lead in drinking water. If your school or child care facility is a public water system subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), it may be required to test for lead in drinking water under the federal Lead and Copper Rule. You can request to view these sample results and other water quality data by contacting the public water system.
Recognizing that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) set a health-based maximum contaminant level goal of zero. The LCR uses the action level of 0.015 mg/L (15 ppb) for lead to evaluate drinking water systems, not individual facilities. The action level triggers actions that water systems must take if the concentration of lead in more than 10 percent of tap water samples is greater than 15 ppb. Some of the actions include installing corrosion control treatment, public education, lead service line replacement and source water monitoring. Only schools and child care facilities that are public water systems subject to the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations are required to meet the requirements of the LCR.
How much will it cost to test school’s drinking water for lead?
This is a free and voluntary testing program done using funds from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant.
What is EPA?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in December 1970. It is a United States federal government agency whose mission is to protect human and environmental health. It oversees programs to promote energy efficiency, environmental stewardship, sustainable growth, air and water quality, and pollution prevention.
Are States required to implement a 3Ts program?
No, states are not federally required to implement a 3Ts program. Although there is no federal requirement for states or tribes to implement a 3Ts program, many states have provided schools with technical guidance regarding sampling plans, analysis, and support in communicating monitoring results. Some states have also published their own guidance and have enacted laws and/or regulations on the testing and notification of lead sampling in these facilities.
Where should drinking water samples be taken at schools and child care facilities?
Samples for 3Ts should be collected at locations used for drinking water. This may include a water fountain/bubbler, a kitchen sink, classroom sinks where food or formula is prepped, or a bathroom sink. EPA recommends prioritizing sampling for lead at potable water sites over non-potable sites (e.g., mop bucket sinks, utility sinks, outdoor hoses, or eye wash stations). If there is potential that these non-potable sites may be used (e.g., the outdoor hoses are used to fill water jugs for sports activities), use clear signage to notify people that the faucet should not be used for drinking or cooking, or include the fixture in your sampling plan.
Who collects the drinking water samples?
It is important that water samples be collected properly. Some certified laboratories provide both collection and sample analysis services. If the laboratory is not collecting the sample, be sure to either identify an individual who is adequately trained to collect lead samples or read the sampling instructions on how to collect the sample provided by the laboratory carefully to help avoid sampling errors. Make sure to check the sampling instructions to confirm they are following the 3Ts sampling protocol, as there are different sampling protocols for different contaminants. Many laboratories work regularly with the water systems and are used to sending out kits with instructions for sampling procedures under the Lead and Copper Rule (e.g., 1L sample bottles). Some state drinking water programs or public water systems may provide both services, although there is no federal requirement that they do so.
When should the drinking water samples be collected?
Collect all water samples before the facility opens and before any water is used. Remember not to use the facilities’ restrooms or sinks that morning prior to sampling. Unless specifically directed to do so, do not collect samples in the morning after vacations, weekends or holidays because the water will have remained stagnant (not moving) for too long and will not represent the water used for drinking during most of the days of the week.
How often should schools/childcare facilities test for lead in drinking water?
How frequently your facility can and should test for lead in drinking water depends on a variety of factors (e.g., plumbing, water quality, lead results, budget, and competing priorities). 3Ts does not recommend a set frequency for sampling schools and child care facilities, but does note that annual monitoring provides information regarding changes in the lead levels and the effectiveness of remediation or treatment efforts as well as timely notice of lead levels that need to be addressed.
Regardless of the frequency set by your facility, EPA recommends that the sampling frequency be documented, and that schools and child care facilities make testing drinking water a part of their regular building operations.
What can schools and child care facilities do if they find lead in drinking water?
Solutions to lead problems typically should be found both on a short-and long-term basis. Schools and child care facilities should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each before choosing what is most appropriate for them and should consider the benefits of remediation that removes the risk of lead contamination (e.g., removing the source of lead). Communication and follow-up sampling is recommended as remediation efforts are being implemented.
The 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water identifies ways to reduce lead exposure:
- Immediate Steps (e.g., shutting of problem outlets, sharing results, and posting signage);
- Short-Term Control Measures (e.g., filters, flushing, and providing bottled water); and
- Permanent Control Measures (e.g., fixture replacement, pipe replacement, and use of a filter).
When selecting a remediation provider, it is important for schools and child care facilities to engage with the local health department, public water system and other available resources to ensure the organization performing remediation is reputable. 3Ts partners can provide essential technical expertise, resources, or may be able to provide assistance in testing and remediating lead in drinking water.