Lead in water at childcare facilities: Preliminary results from EDF’s pilot

When choosing a child care facility, parents weigh numerous factors – like cost, distance to their home, comfort with the staff – with the goal of providing safe care to their child. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know if the facility where the child care program is located itself may present health risks – like lead in the drinking water.

The vast majority of schools and child care facilities are not required to test their drinking water for lead under federal requirements. While much of the attention has been on schools, we find that childcare is relatively overlooked, even though water is the most significant source of lead for formula fed infants. In earlier blogs, we talked about state and local testing requirements and levels in hot water.

We tested at 11 child care facilities and found lead in drinking water in at least one sample at seven facilities above our 3.8 ppb action level, four facilities above 20 ppb, and two facilities above 80 ppb.

To explore lead in drinking water at child care facilities further, EDF conducted a pilot project to investigate new approaches for lead in water testing and remediation in childcare settings.  Our pilot utilized and expanded on EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water.

We will be releasing a report that will detail our full process, results, and recommendations for addressing lead in water in child care settings. In the meantime, we wanted to share our preliminary takeaways and recommendations below as well as a fact sheet on our project.

Our preliminary takeaways:

  • While the majority of samples had lead levels below 1 ppb, most child care facilities had at least one fixture requiring remediation based on our 3.8 parts per billion (ppb) action level.
  • Cleaning the aerator at the end of the faucet is important, but if not done properly may increase lead levels.
  • Flushing fixtures such as faucets, hose bibs and drinking fountains for just 5 seconds reduced lead levels. Flushing for 30 seconds was more effective.
  • Replacing fixtures is effective when initial lead levels are high. However, it did not always eliminate lead most likely because even new brass fixtures can have up to 0.25% lead content and leach up to 5 ppb under NSF’s current standards.
  • Portable lead meters tended to underestimate lead compared to laboratory results.

Our preliminary recommendations:

  • Require testing for lead in child care facilities.
  • Set an action level of 5 ppb or below to investigate and remediate, including aerator cleaning with vinegar, flushing (at least five seconds), and fixture replacement.
  • Replace lead service lines in child care facilities when found.

Learn more about our pilot and preliminary findings on this fact sheet.

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

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