Lead and Copper in Drinking Water
The Lead and Copper Rule defines the acceptable limits (action levels) for lead and copper in drinking water. 90 percent of a water system's service households must be below the following limits for lead and copper:
- The action level for copper is 1.3 milligrams per liter.
- The action level for lead is 0.015 milligrams per liter.
Sources: Both lead and copper can be from corrosion of household plumbing systems; erosion of natural deposits
Health effects (copper): Short term exposure: Gastrointestinal distress
Long term exposure: Liver or kidney damage
People with Wilson's Disease should consult their personal doctor if the amount of copper in their water exceeds the action level
Health effects (lead): Infants and children: Delays in physical or mental development; children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities
Adults: Kidney problems; high blood pressure
The Lead and Copper Rule now requires all public water systems to provide the results of each lead sample to each customer that collected a sample. Consumer notification is required for each round of lead and copper tap monitoring.
Lead and copper are metals commonly used in household plumbing. The lead and copper rule has forced community and non-transient, non-community water systems to conduct tests to determine if lead and copper are present in high levels at the consumer's tap.
General regulatory information (for public water supplies):
Community (water districts, mobile home parks, apartment buildings) and non-transient, non-community (schools, businesses) public water systems must test for lead and copper. Water systems that pass two consecutive six month rounds can go to an annual sampling schedule ( Reduced Monitoring). The minimum number of samples they need to collect are also reduced (unless they are already collecting the minimum of 5). Reduced monitoring samples must be collected in a summer month (June, July, August, or September). After the water system passes three annual rounds of lead and copper sampling, they can request to sample once every three years.
Water systems are responsible for the quality of their water to the customers' tap. Lead and copper samples must be a first draw tap sample or a lead service line sample, and are collected at the customers' homes, not at the water system's source. The Lead and Copper Rule requires the water system to select homes from high risk groups first. High risk structures include buildings with lead service lines, lead solder, or structures built between 1982 and 1987. The list of sites must be submitted to the Drinking Water Program and changes in the testing schedule must be documented.
All community water systems are now required to include a short informational statement in their Consumer Confidence Report regarding lead in drinking water. The mandatory language is available here.
What about people who aren't on a public water system?
A large percentage of the population in Maine are not on a public water supplies and are not required to test for lead and copper. If you want to test your own home for lead and copper, contact the State of Maine's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory at (207) 287-1716. A lead and copper test (the lab's code is "TE4") costs about $20.00 per sample.
How does a lead and copper sample get collected?
Most water systems give the sample bottles to a homeowner and ask him or her to fill the 1 liter container after allowing the water to sit in the pipes for at least 6 hours. The longer the water remains in the pipes, the greater the concentration of lead and copper in the sample.
What if I have high copper or lead levels?
Remember that lead and copper are typically not found in the source of your drinking water (e.g. the well, the public water system's source). Lead and copper leach out of the pipes in your home or business. Studies have shown that if you run your tap water until it gets noticeably colder, then your lead and copper levels should be well below the action levels. How do you know for sure? Call the lab and get it tested after you've let it run until it's cold. Then you can be sure. If you have a private well and your lead and copper levels are high, you may want to call a water treatment company to install a system to prevent further corrosion of your pipes. If you see green staining on your fixtures, that indicates that your copper pipes are corroding and will eventually develop pinhole leaks. It's best to treat your water just after it comes in the building to reduce its natural corrosivity so you can save your pipes. In general, raising the pH of your well water can reduce lead and copper corrosion.
Public Education Section: General information, sample cover letter, sample public service announcement, EPA mandatory language.
Lead and Copper Rule Quick Reference Guide
external link to US Environmental Protection Agency
For more information about lead and copper in your drinking water, contact your Compliance Officer.