Managing Lead in Drinking Water


Lead and copper enter drinking water mainly from corrosion of lead and copper containing plumbing materials. While use of lead in plumbing materials has been banned for more than a quarter century, the release of lead into drinking water remains a serious concern. 

Environmental lead exposure is decreasing; children’s blood lead levels are a fraction of previous levels. As efforts continue to reduce lead exposure from all sources, there is an increasing focus on what more the water sector can do to assist the communities they serve reduce lead.

AWWA has endorsed the National Drinking Water Advisory Council recommendations for revising the Lead and Copper Rule. The NDWAC recommendations include improving public outreach on lead in drinking water, greater focus on corrosion control by all community water systems, and developing community-specific plans to remove all lead service lines in their entirety.

What is happening now

  • AWWA submitted its comments on the USEPA proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.
  • The comment period on the proposal ends on February 12, 2020. The white paper EPA distributed in October 2016 provides an overview of the issues being considered in the rulemaking.  The proposal would make significant changes to the current rule (last changed in 2007), including requiring water systems to: 

1. Develop lead service line inventories and lead service line replacement plans

2. Deliver public notification within 24 hours of a lead action level exceedance (90th percentile lead concentration is greater than 15 µg/L)

3. Evaluate corrosion control and initiate lead service line replacement if 90th percentile lead concentration is greater than 10 µg/L)

4. Engage individual property owners in achieving full lead service line replacement in the course of ongoing construction and in order to meet lead service line replacement objectives following a lead trigger level or action level exceedance.

5.  Sample for lead in drinking water at all K – 12 schools and child care facilities in their service area

Steps your system can take

Talk about lead with your customers. Every water system has a story to tell. Customers want to know about the likely sources of lead present in your community, what the system is doing to control corrosivity, and options for customers concerned about lead to take additional actions. Suggestions on how to communicate effectively are available in AWWA’s Lead Communications Toolkit.

Review and refine current corrosion control practice. All systems serving more than 50,000 persons have a formal corrosion control treatment program. All other systems are managing their supplies, perhaps with active treatment measures, to reliably comply with the current LCR action levels. Understanding and modifying corrosion control take careful study and evaluation.

Develop a strategy to remove lead service lines. Lead service lines are a large potential source of lead in drinking water. The Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative provides an introduction to building a community-based approach to lead service replacement. Replacing lead service lines completely will require a shared effort with customers, local government leaders, and numerous other local agencies.