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EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule
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To protect us from lead and copper contamination by controlling the corrosion of water lines.

For those of us who want to understand the Lead and Copper Rule, but don’t want to sift through all the legal mumbo-jumbo, read on for a summary in plain English.

It has been known for quite some time that the metal elements, lead and copper, enter our drinking water primarily through aging plumbing materials. In 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally published a regulation to control these contaminants. The Lead and Copper Rule applies only to water utilities (the companies that provide water to the public). Its job is to protect us from lead and copper contamination mainly by controlling the corrosion of water lines.

The challenge is that lead and copper contamination typically occurs AFTER the water leaves the municipal or other treatment facilities. So, water utility companies have to monitor drinking water that actually comes from the taps in homes, and it’s clearly impossible for them to go around testing every single home. So, per the LCR, they end up only testing a certain specified number of homes that are considered high risk. Monitoring is supposed to occur every 6 months, unless they qualify for reduced monitoring.

The LCR states that action must be taken when lead concentrations exceed 15 ppb or copper concentrations exceed 1.3 ppm in more than 10% of homes sampled. To put that into perspective, 15 ppb is about equal to the concentration of a one gram sugar packet being spread over half a football field. It doesn’t take much to harm our health! When lead and copper levels exceed these concentrations, water utilities are responsible for taking action to control the problem.

What actions? They MUST inform the public that there is a lead and copper problem and give people clear steps on how to protect themselves and their families. Additionally, more chemicals are added to the water to prevent further corrosion and there may be extra testing in homes. If corrosion control and source water treatment with chemicals doesn’t work, then communities must replace their lead water pipes. However, they are only required by the rule to replace 7% of lead service lines per year, which is not a very fast pace considering the health risk posed.

It’s important that everyone understands how they are protected against lead and copper contamination in their drinking water, so if you need more information please check out the sources below. Besides being informed, there are other ways to get involved on this issue in your community, including citizen science. By sampling your own home’s tap water and sending it to an independent lab for testing, you add to the number of samples monitored for lead and copper. This not only helps water utilities, but it keeps them on their toes and shows them that you care about what’s in your drinking water.

Sources and additional reading:
Quick reference guide:

Quick reference guide for schools and children:


Code of federal regulations: