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Lead in Schools and Older Homes

Lead is a common hazardous contaminant found in the plumbing systems of older homes, businesses and schools.

Although rarely found in source water, lead can enter tap water through the corrosion of aging plumbing materials. The three main sources found in schools include:

  • Lead-containing service lines connected to public water systems, most often in schools built prior to 1950
  • Lead solder used in copper piping systems prior to 1986
  • Lead-containing brass or galvanized pipe and fittings that are not certified to the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 standard; includes many products manufactured prior to the mid-1990s

Current U.S. laws limit the amount of allowable lead in plumbing products to a weighted average of 0.25 percent or less.

How Is Water in Schools Tested for Lead?

The U.S. EPA Lead Contamination Control Act (1988) outlines the specific methods for testing for lead in drinking water at schools and daycare centers. It recommends collecting a 250 mL sample from the outlet after water has not been used in the building for between eight and 18 hours. The acceptable limit of lead in the 250 mL sample is 0.02 micrograms per mL.

However, implementation and enforcement of the testing portion of the Act is at each state’s discretion. Before testing any water for lead, please consult your local regulatory authority to learn your state’s or jurisdiction’s specific requirements.

Accredited Laboratories for Chemical Analyses of Drinking Water by State

When testing water samples for lead, it is important and required by many states to use a state-certified drinking water laboratory or a lab that is approved by the U.S. EPA. The U.S. EPA has compiled a list of approved water testing labs for lead for each state.

NSF Drinking Water Plumbing Standards*

Plumbing products used for drinking water are covered under two standards: NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 and NSF/ANSI/CAN 372. Certification to either standard means products do not contribute dangerous amounts of lead to the drinking water supply, but certification to NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Drinking Water Treatment System Components – Health Effects ensures the faucet, fitting, valve, etc. is safe to be in contact with drinking water. This standard evaluates various harmful chemical contaminants, including lead that may be introduced to the drinking water because of the materials used in the product. In contrast, NSF/ANSI/CAN 372: Drinking Water System Components – Lead Content only requires verification of the lead content based on the wetted surfaces of the products. Look for the NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 certification mark to ensure the faucet, housing, valve, pipe, fitting, etc. is certified for drinking water contact.

Where Can I Find Lead-Free Products?

You can find plumbing products that are NSF certified as lead-free according to the U.S. EPA requirements by searching our listings below:

You can also look for the NSF certification mark or standard number on a product or packaging to ensure you are buying a tested plumbing product. Certified products may be marked with NSF/ANSI 61G, NSF® pw-G, NSF/ANSI/CAN 61 or NSF® pw. Products may also display the certification mark below (either as a logo or text):

Certified to NSF/ANSI 61 Mark

Where Can I Find Water Filters Certified by NSF?

Where Can I Find Water Filters Certified by NSF?
If your school’s water tests positive for lead, there are many NSF certified filtration systems that can be purchased. Although many of these systems are meant to filter only a few gallons of water at a time, they can be kept in classrooms, break rooms and refrigerators for drinking purposes. See below for specific kitchen water filtration systems and reverse osmosis water filter systems as well as countertop filters certified to reduce lead.

Certified Filters by Type

What Does Lead-Free Mean?

Section 1417 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) establishes the definition of lead-free as a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead calculated across the wetted surfaces of a pipe, pipe fitting, plumbing fitting and fixture and 0.2 percent lead for solder and flux. The Act also provides a methodology for calculating the weighted average of wetted surfaces. The methods of evaluating products to these lead-free requirements are found in NSF/ANSI/CAN 372: Drinking Water System Components – Lead Content.

NSF Standards Development Process

Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), NSF utilizes input from regulators (including the U.S. EPA), consumers, academia and industry to develop criteria for standards.

About NSF and Its Role Certifying Plumbing Products

NSF is an independent, not-for-profit organization that facilitates development of consensus-based national standards for the safety, health and performance of food, water and consumer products. These standards help to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment. This includes developing standards for drinking water treatment products, including plumbing supplies, and testing these products to ensure their compliance with NSF/ANSI and other consensus-based standards.

For example: We can verify that a plumbing component does not contribute harmful contaminants to drinking water.

To ensure objectivity and transparency, all NSF drinking water certification programs are accredited by ANSI (ANSI-Accredited Product Certification Body - Accreditation #2016). Additionally, NSF/ANSI standards receive public health ratification from NSF’s Council of Public Health Consultants which includes representatives from government, academia and public health. To become certified, products that are used in homes and schools (e.g., water filters, faucets and drinking fountains) are tested against these standards as a benchmark to make sure they are safe for use.

*Certification to these standards also means the product meets the U.S. EPA’s regulations regarding lead-containing products. These plumbing products may be marked lead-free, which means they meet the EPA’s requirement of under 0.25 percent weighted lead content.

Lead has been used in the manufacture of household plumbing fixtures and water lines for many years. Although rarely found in source water, it can enter tap water through the corrosion of plumbing materials. Homes built in the U.S. before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes as well as fixtures and solder containing higher levels of lead. In 2014, lead content standards were adopted in the U.S. that limit the amount of lead that manufacturers can use in the construction of plumbing fixtures.

If you suspect you may have lead in your water supply, take these steps to try to reduce your exposure:

  • Run the kitchen and/or bathroom faucets for at least one minute in the morning or after coming home from school/work before getting a drink.
  • Never use hot water for cooking or drinking, since hot water leaches more lead than cold water.
  • Never drink water from any faucet other than the kitchen or bathroom tap; these are the only faucets in the home required to meet current lead content standards.

If you are unsure if lead is an issue in your home, consider having a sample of your tap water tested. Your local water or health department may be able to help you locate a water testing lab in your area. If the detected level exceeds 0.010 mg/L (for Canada) or 0.015 mg/L (for U.S.), consider purchasing certified bottled water or use a filter certified for lead reduction until you are able to locate and eliminate the source of the lead in the water supply.

NSF has created a consumer guide to NSF-certified lead filtration devices for reduction of lead in drinking water that explains the NSF standards and the process by which NSF verifies a filter’s ability to reduce lead in drinking water. Some of the products listed in the guide may also be certified to reduce other contaminants besides lead.

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