MYTH 1: Water with less than 15ppb (parts per billion) of lead is “safe” to drink.

FACT: The EPA’s 15ppb lead action level is not based on health as there is no known safe level of lead ingestion.  The EPA's Lead and Copper Rule’s health-based maximum lead contaminate level goal is zero.

This myth perpetuates a false notion that the EPA’s action level of 15ppb is a health standard and based in health science.  We know that this is not true; there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is clear that action should be taken if water contains more than 1ppb of lead. 

Part of the problem is the number itself, the EPA’s action level is 15ppb so that must mean something and one would presume it is somehow tied to health.  The number does mean something, it is found in the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule of 1991 and is the lowest level where corrosion control treatment (CCT) is effective.[1] 

·      The remedial action involves treating the water with chemicals that will keep the service pipes from leaching lead---corrosion control treatment. 

·      CCT is only effective starting at the 15ppb level, meaning that this treatment method is not effective if the lead levels are below 15ppb. 

The EPA explains that the 15ppb is not based on health and that there is no known safe level of lead ingestion.  However, the messaging between water treatment centers, school administrators, and the public confused the 15ppb action level as a “safety” level.  This is a dangerous assertion and completely false.

MYTH 2: Buildings built after the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendment do not contain lead in their pipes and are “safe” from lead in leaching into drinking water.

FACT: Under the 1986 SDWA Amendment “lead free” is defined as solder and flux with no more than 0.2% lead and pipes with no more than 8% lead.

·      1996 SDWA expanded the prohibition to encompass plumbing fittings and fixtures and to prohibit the introduction into commerce of pipes, fitting, and fixtures, solder or flux that is not “lead free”.

·      The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011 revised the maximum allowable lead content from not more than 8% to not more than a weighted average of 0.25% lead on the wetted surface of pipes and fixtures; that law became effective in January 2014.

While these prohibitions have reduced the amount of lead allowed in covered plumbing materials after they went into effect, there are many buildings that still have lead service lines and/or plumbing materials made with a higher percentage of lead than currently allowed for new installations or repairs of existing plumbing. 

[1] Lead and Copper Rules Revision White Paper, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water, October 2016