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Water: School & Child Care Facilities

Laws and Regulations

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was originally passed by Congress in 1974 to protect public health by regulating the nation's public drinking water supply. The law was amended in 1986 and 1996 and requires many actions to protect drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, aquifers, and ground water wells.

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 web site.

For more information on bottled water see: Water Health Series: Bottled Water Basics PDF (7 pgs, 1.4M, about PDF)

How Drinking Water is Regulated

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. Although drinking water often picks up low levels of some contaminants as it flows in rivers and collects in aquifers, these materials usually are not detected at harmful levels. Public water suppliers must monitor their water to make sure it complies with science-based public health standards. EPA sets these maximum allowable levels of contaminants in drinking water under the SDWA. EPA has set standards for 90 contaminants. People at the federal, tribal, state and local levels work together to protect public water supplies. Federal standards do not include private wells (individual wells serving fewer than 25 persons). Therefore, people receiving water from private wells are responsible for making sure their own drinking water is safe. Some states do set standards for private wells, so well owners should check their state requirements.

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How Lead in Drinking Water is Regulated

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

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Lead Ban
The 1986 SDWA Lead Ban requires the use of "lead-free" pipe, solder, and flux in the installation or repair of any public water system or 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 took effect on June 19, 1986, solders used to join water pipes typically contained about 50 percent lead. Pipes and pipe fittings are considered lead-free under the Lead Ban when they contain less than 8 percent lead. Plumbing fixtures that are not "lead free" were banned from sale after August 6, 1998.

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Lead Contamination and Control Act (LCCA)

The purpose of the 1988 Lead Contamination Control Act is to reduce lead exposure and the health risks associated with it by reducing lead levels in drinking water at schools and child care centers. The LCCA created lead monitoring and reporting requirements for all schools, and required the replacement of drinking water fixtures that contained excessive levels of lead. Because these provisions are not enforceable, States have the option to voluntarily enforce the provisions of the Act (or alternate provisions) through their own authority.

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Lead and Copper Rule (LCR)
The 1991 Lead and Copper Rule requires public water suppliers to monitor for lead in drinking water and to provide 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 where the highest lead levels are likely to be found. Unless a school is regulated as a public water system, testing for lead and copper within the school is not specifically required. Therefore, many schools served by water systems owned by cities, towns, or other entities may have never been tested for lead under the LCR. Therefore, EPA strongly recommends that schools test drinking water in their facilities for lead.

Some schools and child care facilities who meet the definition of a public water system 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

  • you have your own water source (i.e., a well), OR
  • you treat the water, OR
  • you sell the water,

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.

For those schools and child care facilities that are subject to regulation under the SDWA and therefore must comply with the LCR, EPA has developed a quick reference guide to help you understand the requirements of the rule.

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Preamble to the Lead and Copper Rule

The preamble language provides an explanation for the different actions levels for lead in drinking water for regulated and non-regulated schools and child care facilities.

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Public Water Supply Testing vs. Testing at Schools

It is important to note that the lead testing protocol used by public water systems is aimed at identifying system-wide problems rather than problems at outlets in individual buildings. Moreover, the protocols for sample size and sampling procedures are different. Under the LCR for public water systems, a lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) is established for 1 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 public water systems 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 and that the water fountains and/or outlets be taken out of service if the lead level exceeds 20 ppb. The sample size was designed to pinpoint specific fountains and faucets that required remediation (e.g. water cooler replacement). The school sampling protocol maximizes the likelihood that the highest concentrations of lead are found because the first 250mL are analyzed for lead after water has sat in plumbing overnight.

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