splashing water


Lead is a common, naturally occurring metal found throughout the environment. Lead seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes, and lead is rarely present in water coming from a treatment plant. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of corrosion or wearing away of materials in the water distribution system and household plumbing that contain lead. Despite concerns about drinking water, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that "children can be exposed to lead by putting their hands that have touched lead-containing soil or dust into their mouths".

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Children are exposed to lead in paint, dust, soil, air, and food, as well as drinking water." EPA estimates "drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 percent to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water."

AWWA's whiteboard animation below explains where lead comes from, how it gets into water, and what households can do to keep their water lead-safe.

Lead is a concern because it is a toxic metal that can cause immediate effects at high doses and long term effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Lead can cause brain and kidney damage in addition to effects on the blood and vitamin D metabolism. Children are more vulnerable to lead because their bodies are smaller, and because they are still developing. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at higher risk for negative health effects associated with lead exposure.


If you are concerned that you or a family member may have been exposed to lead, consult with your family doctor or pediatrician to receive a blood test for lead and learn more about the health effects associated with exposure.

EPA announced its final version of the Lead and Copper Rule on December 22, 2020.

In broad terms, the final rule reflects many of the core elements of the November 2019 proposal, including:


As of January 2014 revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act made it illegal to install and pipe, or plumbing fitting or fixture, any solder, or any flux, during the installation or repair of a public water system or customer’s drinking water plumbing unless it meets the following definition of “lead-free”:


The original version of the Lead and Copper Rule, published in 1991, requires all public drinking water systems regularly test a sample of high-risk homes for lead at the tap. If more than 10 percent of homes tested have lead concentrations higher than EPA “action level” of 15 parts per billion, individual water utilities are required to notify area residents via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. If the lead level remains consistently above the action level, the water supplier must take steps to control corrosion.

  • A requirement that utilities develop lead service line (LSL) inventories regardless of service line ownership, a necessary first step to eventually create an LSL removal program. Utilities must always pursue full lead service line replacement when disturbing a lead service line and are required to replace the utility-owned portion of a lead service when a customer elects to replace the customer-owned portion of the line.
  • Utilities are required to test elementary schools and childcare facilities.
  • The 15 µg/L lead action level (90th percentile lead level) remains unchanged, but there is a requirement for public notification within 24 hours if a system exceeds the lead action level.
  • Corrosion control treatment requirements include a new “trigger level” (a 90th percentile lead level of 10 µg/L), that when exceeded a system that currently employs corrosion control would be required to re-optimize existing treatment. Systems that do not currently treat for corrosion control would be required to conduct a corrosion control study.
  • Not containing more than 0.2 percent lead when used with respect to solder and flux; and
  • Not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures.

Older homes are more likely to have plumbing fixtures containing lead.

Systems that deliver soft water, which has fewer dissolved minerals, and water that is more acidic and higher in dissolved oxygen can be more corrosive, increasing the risk of lead contamination. Watch for frequent leaks, discolored water and stained dishes or clothes, as these are all signs of corrosive water. Also, check with your local water utility to find out more about whether your water is corrosive and what can be done. You can also find out if your public supply system contains any lead piping.

Review Denver Water's illustration on the most common source of lead in treated drinking water.


If you’re concerned about lead in your drinking water, you can take several steps to limit possible exposure. Read AWWA's Lead - Keep Your Water Safe brochure for guidance.

  • Testing at the tap is the only way to measure the lead levels in your home or workplace. You can’t see, smell or taste lead in your water. If you choose to have your tap water tested, be sure to use a properly certified laboratory. Testing usually costs between $20 and $100. To find a state certified laboratory, contact a state certification officer.
  • Flush your tap water. Flushing the tap is particularly important when the faucet has gone unused for more than a few hours. It takes time for lead to dissolve into water, so the first water drawn from the tap in the morning or after a long period of non-use can contain higher levels of lead. Flushing clears standing water from your plumbing and home service line to ensure you are getting drinking water from the main, where lead is rarely present. Let the water run from the tap until it is noticeably colder (this may take up to two minutes or more) before using it for cooking or drinking.


    Remember, you must flush EACH drinking water faucet after long periods of non-use for this strategy to be effective. Use the flushed water for non-potable purposes such as watering plants or washing dishes.

  • Use only cold water for cooking or drinking. Lead leaches more easily into hot water than cold water.
  • Boiling water DOES NOT remove lead.
  • After moving into a new home, remove faucet strainers and rinse them to remove any debris. This should be done periodically to remove accumulated debris as well.
  • Make sure lead-free materials are used when building any new home.
  • Consider replacing lead service lines. Find out from a certified plumber or your utility if your home has lead service lines, because these pipes can be a source of lead at the tap. A service line is the pipe between the curb stop and the water meter. It is typically at least partly under the control/ownership of the homeowner.
  • Recent data suggests that replacing just part of the line can actually increase lead levels. If your utility is replacing its part of the line, it's a good idea for the homeowner to do the same. Talk to your utility about programs that can ease the financial burden of lead service line replacements.

Treatment and Removal Devices

Some home treatment devices remove lead, but not all do. In order to make a well-informed and cost-effective decision, consider:

  • checking with your water system or consumer confidence report to learn about the amount of lead in your water, and
  • identifying a device that has been independently certified to remove lead.
NSF International, the Water Quality Association, Underwriters Laboratories and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. If a home treatment device is used, it is very important to follow the manufacturer's operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device functions properly.

AWWA's Lead and Your Water - Frequently Asked Questions document

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1-800-426-4791

National Lead Information Center: 1-800-LEAD-FYI