Lead in Drinking Water

    Recent crises involving elevated levels of lead in drinking water in Flint, MI, and Sebring, OH along with other US cities have reached prominence on a national level. Prompted by these events, federal and state regulators are reacting to quickly review current regulations concerning lead in drinking water to enact prompt changes for water systems across the Country.

    In addition, this increased awareness of lead in drinking water has resulted in public attention to school water systems and the potential for lead exposure in schools as well. Schools are a focus since young children are at higher risk of adverse health consequences from lead exposure. 

    There is no federal law requiring testing for drinking water in schools, except for schools that have their own water supply.  The information provided here is ONLY intended for schools that receive water from the City of Houston Municipal Supply. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) provides information and guidance on their website about drinking water quality in schools and child care facilities at https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-drinking-water-schools-and-child-care-facilities.

    USEPA has developed an online series of questions that may help schools and child care facilities decide if testing the drinking water for lead is necessary. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, there may be the potential for lead in the drinking water. The only way to know if a drinking water outlet has lead is to test it. The questions are below and the decision tree is located at: https://cfpub.epa.gov/safewater/leaddecision/.

    • Is there lead solder in the building (very commonly used before the "lead-free" requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act took effect in 1986)?
    • Is the service line (the connector which brings water from the main into your building) a lead pipe?
    • Does the building have lead pipes and pipe fittings in the plumbing system (plumbing installed before 1930 is more likely to contain lead than newer pipes)?
    • Do any outlets get green, orange or brown stains?
    • Is there a metallic taste to the water?
    • Were brass pipes, fittings, faucets and valves installed throughout the building less than 5 years ago? *Note, the USEPA developed these questions prior to the new lower lead-free definition becoming effective in 2014. 
    • Does your school have water coolers that are not lead free?  (Check EPA's list in Appendix E of the 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools: Revised Technical Guidance)

    USEPA provides a more detailed sampling protocol in the 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in the Schools Guidelines document (3Ts document). Facilities managers and other school personnel should thoroughly read the 3Ts document and understand the various steps needed to complete the recommendations. It can be downloaded as a pdf file on their website at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/toolkit_leadschools_guide_3ts_leadschools.pdf.
    This is basic overview of the sampling procedures.

    • Determine which outlets will be sampled. Determine priorities and code outlets appropriately.
    • Outlets must be inactive for at least 6 to 8 hours before testing. (Overnight is best.)
    • 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.
    • If lead is suspected throughout system, take a 30 second "flush" sample from outlet(s).
    • Send samples to a laboratory which is certified to test lead in drinking water.

    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains an updated list of approved laboratories online at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/compliance/compliance_support/qa/txnelap_lab_list.pdf.

    Schools should sample when students are attending.  Sampling during the summer, weekends, and vacation periods when buildings are vacant is not the ideal time to try to determine the water quality within your buildings

    We will help explain your results to you and work with you to identify the exact source of the lead.  Please contact us through 3-1-1 and ask to speak to someone in the drinking water quality group or email [email protected].

    Additionally, the USEPA has developed a short guidance document on best management practices for drinking water in schools and childcare facilities which may be downloaded here: http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi?Dockey=P100HGM8.txt. This document provides routine measures for reducing lead exposure.

    For information on the TCEQ Drinking Water Lead and Copper Program, please visit their website at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/drinkingwater/chemicals/lead_copper/lead-copper.html.