About Lead in Schools: Lead-Free Learning Initiative

three cut off pipes in a row: lead pipe, corroded lead pipe, and treated lead pipe

Action Level for Lead

EPA is required by law to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These health-based levels are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs).

EPA set the MCLG for lead in drinking water at zero because the best available science has not been able to determine a safe level for lead in drinking water. However, the agency did set an action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) that triggers additional actions by public water systems if over 10 percent of the faucets sampled exceed this level.

Since the 15 ppb action level is the only standard available under current law, states sampling for lead in their schools measure their test results against this standard.

In 2015, EPA began work on developing a health-based household standard for lead in drinking water; these studies are still underway.

Safe drinking water at schools and childcare facilities is important for children’s long-term health and learning. Exposure to even small levels of lead can impair brain development and cause learning delays and behavioral issues. Children are more vulnerable to lead’s effects because their growing bodies absorb four to five times more lead than the average adult. Since children spend a significant portion of their time at school and in childcare, testing for lead in drinking water at these locations is one of the best ways to protect them from exposure.

Utah’s public water systems are required to deliver drinking water that meets federal and state lead standards. Unfortunately, lead can enter a building’s drinking water when plumbing materials that contain lead corrode and leach into the drinking water distribution system. The most common sources of lead in schools are:

  • Lead pipes, faucets, or fixtures (generally found in older buildings)
  • Brass or chrome-plated brass faucets
  • Plumbing with lead solder

Because schools tend to be large, it’s easier for water to stagnate in the plumbing and increase lead concentrations in the school above levels found in the water delivered by the supplier. Testing each building is the best way to identify and remedy any problems that may exist.