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


New Lead-Copper requirements

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.

Click here for the new notification forms.


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.

Lead and Copper Sampling Technique Fact Sheet

Lead and Copper Sampling Instructions

Form 141-A (rtf format) (pdf format)


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.

New Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act

In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (Lead Reduction Act), which amends Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Lead Reduction Act changes the definition of “lead-free” from 8.0 percent to 0.25 percent. The Lead Reduction Act takes effect on January 4, 2014 and requires pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to be "lead free."

The Safe Drinking Water Act states the following:
"it [is] unlawful for any person to introduce into commerce any pipe, or any pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture that is not lead free" and "no person may use any pipe, any pipe or plumbing fitting or fixture, any solder, or any flux, in the installation or repair of any public water system or any plumbing in a residential or nonresidential facility providing water for human consumption that is not lead free."

Lead is not normally found in source water, but can enter drinking water systems through the corrosion of the pipes and plumbing fixtures. Regulatory efforts to reduce the presence of lead in drinking water tend to focus on the lead content of drinking water system components. The federal law applies to any product used in systems where water is anticipated to be used for human consumption.

Summary Of The Reduction Of Lead In Drinking Water Act And Frequently Asked Questions (EPA PDF link)

Lead-Free Certification Marks- How to Identify for Drinking Water Systems & Plumbing Materials (EPA PDF link)

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.