Lead in Drinking Water: Homes and Schools

Printer Friendly, PDF & Email

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that is commonly present in our environment and can have serious, irreversible cognitive and behavioral impacts, particularly in children. Historically, most lead exposure has occurred through inhaling leaded-gasoline combustion products in the atmosphere; this contribution has drastically declined due to the global phase-out of leaded gasoline. Other sources of exposure include occupational exposure, leaded paint found in older homes, and in drinking water. Although source water supplying drinking water systems is generally low in lead, lead can enter drinking water by leaching from lead service lines, plumbing, and fixtures. There is no known level below which lead exposure is considered “safe”(Centers for Disease Control, 2017).

The pervasiveness of lead in our environment can make it difficult to completely eliminate all sources of exposure. However, there are actions that can be taken to limit our intake. The resources presented here are intended to:

  • assist public health practitioners in understanding the issues around lead in drinking water;
  • highlight the approaches taken to addressing lead nation-wide; and
  • provide practical advice on sampling, testing, and mitigating lead exposure in homes and schools.

NCCEH Resources

  • Testing for Lead In School Drinking Water: A Summary of Sampling Protocols (2019)
    This review summarizes four Canadian protocols for sampling lead in school water, including those from Ontario and Québec, which require annual testing of lead in school water, and two from Health Canada.
  • Public Health and Industry: Partners in Reducing Lead Exposure (2017)
    This presentation, delivered at the Canadian Water Quality Association (CWQA) meeting in May 2017, uses Flint, Michigan, as a case study to examine the factors leading up to a public health disaster, and discusses how the drinking water treatment industry and public health professionals can collaborate to reduce Canadians’ risk of lead exposure.
  • Flint Water Crisis: Can It Happen in Canada? (2016)
    This presentation, delivered at CIPHI’s 82nd Annual Education Conference, discusses the regulatory failures that led to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and examines whether similar weaknesses exist within the Canadian regulatory system.
  • Investigating elevated copper and lead levels in school drinking water (2013)
    This paper investigates elevated lead and copper levels in a school's drinking water and includes an assessment of the effectiveness of flushing as a solution to reducing lead and copper concentrations. Flushing protocols that adequately reduce metals in school water may require significant staff time and effort to be effective.
  • Risk Management for Lead (2012)
    This presentation gives an overview of the health effects of lead exposure, trends in Canadians’ blood lead levels, guidelines (currently under revision), factors that facilitate lead levels in water systems, and general principles regarding risk management for lead in homes and schools.
  • Lead in School Drinking Water: Canada Can and Should Address This Important Ongoing Exposure Source (2011)
    This commentary describes the fundamental data gap with respect to children’s exposure to lead through school drinking water, highlights the limited actions taken within Canada so far, and compares and contrasts regulatory approaches between the US and Canada.

Other Selected Resources

  • Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document – Lead (Health Canada, 2019).
    This guideline technical document presents background, context, science and research as well as technical considerations that formed the basis for the reduction of the maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) for total lead in drinking water from 0.010 mg/L (10 µg/L) to 0.005 mg/L (5 µg/L).
  • Flushing and Sampling for Lead (Government of Ontario, 2019)
    This guidance document provides detailed information on the requirements for schools, private schools, and daycare centres with respect to lead testing, as well as periodic, preventive flushing of facility plumbing. At-a-glance guides for sampling and flushing are also available. The document also provides detailed advice on how to collect, document, and transport water samples, and how to report and take corrective action if an exceedance is observed.
  • 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2018)
    This toolkit provides a comprehensive approach to training school staff regarding lead in drinking water, testing in schools (with guidance on how to develop a sampling plan and sampling procedures), and finally telling or communicating the results to parents and the public.
  • Interim Guidelines on Evaluating and Mitigating Lead in Drinking Water Supplies, Schools, Daycares, and Other Buildings (Government of British Columbia, 2017)
    This interim guidance document provides information on the roles and responsibilities of BC public health professionals and other stakeholders in reducing lead exposure in a variety of settings, including schools. The document also provides information on lead risk assessment, water testing, and mitigation, including a process flow and screening protocol for lead evaluation in schools (Appendices B and C).
  • Managing risks to children’s health from lead in drinking water in British Columbia’s daycares and schools (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, 2017)
    This short report provides an overview of blood lead levels in Canada and BC, discusses the factors that influence lead levels in school drinking water, and describes several options to reduce lead exposure in schools and their effectiveness.
  • Testing Lead Content in Drinking Water of School Facilities (Government of British Columbia, 2016)
    This policy statement describes new requirements for lead testing in BC schools built before 1990 or with a history of high lead levels. This policy, which came into force September 26, 2016, is intended to bring schools into line with other drinking water suppliers that must test their water on a regular basis.
  • Sampling for Lead in Drinking Water in NYS Schools (New York State Department of Health, 2016)
    This video provides general information on developing a sampling plan for a facility such as a school. It also provides a highly useful visual guide on how to properly select, prepare, collect, and document a first-draw water sample from a sink or a fountain. Please note: in some instances or jurisdictions, it may be necessary to collect both a first-draw as well as a post-flush sample.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.

Last updated Sep 19, 2017