Lead and copper are metals that can enter drinking water, primarily from plumbing materials. Community and Non-Community Non-Transient public water supplies are regulated under the federal Lead and Copper Rule and the Vermont Water Supply Rule that refers to it. The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has many requirements as described on this page, including testing for lead and copper, educating water users, and, if necessary, additional water treatment. The LCR is being updated and you can find more information on that process for Vermont systems on our Lead and Copper Rule Revision page. A school or child care facility that has its own well and water treatment is regulated under the LCR as described below if it is a public water system. Vermont also has a state requirement for testing and remediating lead in school and child care drinking water, Act 66 of 2019.
Sources and LCR Regulatory Standards
The most common sources of lead and copper in drinking water are plumbing materials throughout the water distribution system, especially if they corrode (break down) over time. Lead and copper are elements that have been used in plumbing materials (pipes, valves, solder, fixtures, faucets, etc.) by themselves and in alloys of multiple metals such as brass. Lead is a neurotoxin and causes other health effects. The federal drinking water standards for lead are a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero and an action level (AL) of 0.015 mg/L = 15 ppb. Copper is a micronutrient but can cause health effects if too high. Copper has a MCLG of 1.3 mg/L and AL of 1.3 mg/L = 1300 ppb). Copper also has a secondary standard due to aesthetic effects such as color, staining, and taste (SMCL of 1.0 mg/L). Public water systems regulated under the LCR must take specific actions if more than 10% of samples exceed the AL for lead or copper (an action level exceedance, described in more detail below). Environmental regulations have reduced multiple sources of lead in the environment to protect public health, including significant reductions in the amount of lead allowed in plumbing and solder. For more information on sources and health effects of lead, please visit the websites below:
Vermont Lead in Consumer Products Law including plumbing and solder (Vermont Attorney General)
Lead in Drinking Water (Vermont Department of Health)
Lead (US EPA)
LCR Sampling Requirements and Procedures
Public water systems regulated under the LCR must collect lead and copper samples from specific locations, and according to a monitoring schedule with frequencies and number of required samples that vary during the history of the water system. Currently, lead and copper samples are usually collected in the same sample bottle. Additional special diagnostic samples are required in some circumstances.
Lead and Copper Sampling Plan
Routine samples must be collected from locations in the distribution system (where lead and copper enter drinking water) according to a Division-approved Lead and Copper Sampling Plan. Sites from the distribution are prioritized for inclusion in the plan based on plumbing materials expected to have the highest risk for lead contamination according to specific criteria in the LCR. Community water systems must sample from residential kitchen or bathroom faucets.
Lead and Copper Sampling Plan Guidance (instructions for completing the Plan Form)
Monitoring Schedules (frequency and number)
The frequency of sampling and the number of samples required per monitoring period are based mainly on the user population size and prior lead and copper results. Some systems are required to sample lead and copper in six-month monitoring periods (usually after a water source or treatment change or after a lead or copper action level exceedance). Systems on reduced monitoring sample every year or once every three years between June 1 and September 30. Starting in 2017, water systems serving connections with varied seasonal use and occupancy that are already on reduced monitoring may apply for approval to sample between February 1 and May 31.
How to Collect Lead and Copper Samples
Lead and copper samples for water system compliance must be "first-draw" samples taken from cold water taps where the water has not been used for at least 6 hours. Taps should be those in regular use for drinking and cooking. Artificial pre-stagnation flushing is prohibited. Screens and aerators should be carefully removed, rinsed, and replaced as part of routine maintenance but they must be left in place prior to compliance sampling. Details on sample collection are provided in the directions below for water systems and for water systems to provide to residents or employees collecting samples for the water system. U.S. EPA published a memo in February 2016 reiterating proper sample collection techniques.
EPA sample collection guidance (EPA February 2016, distributed as sample collection policy for Vermont, and incorporated in later Rule revisions.)
Education and Notices about Lead
Community water systems are required to provide basic information about lead in their Consumer Confidence Report (CCR, annual water quality report to all users) such as flushing the cold water tap before getting water for drinking and cooking. The CCR also must include a summary of the most recent round of lead and copper testing at that water system.
After each round of LCR compliance monitoring, each water system is required to provide participants whose individual locations were sampled with their lead results within 30 days of receiving the lab results, or 3 days if the individual tap result was above the action level of 15ppb. This is required even if the results are all very low. The document below has templates to use that include the required health language. Return a copy of a notice and the certification form to the Division. There is a letter-style template and a table where all results can be provided at once in a table if preferred (as is often the case for NTNC systems such as office buildings).
If there is a lead action level exceedance, information must be provided promptly to all water system users in case the problem is widespread (see next section).
Action Levels and Action Level Exceedances
Instead of maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), lead and copper have action levels (ALs) based on the 90th percentile result. A 90th percentile result is determined by ranking the results and determining where 10% of samples are higher. For a system collecting 10 samples, the 90th percentile result is the 2nd highest result. For a system collecting 5 samples, the 90th percentile result is the average of the two highest results. 90th percentile results are calculated separately for lead and copper, and separately in each monitoring period.
An action level exceedance for either lead or copper requires the whole water system to take certain steps when more than 10% of tap samples are greater than the lead or copper action level, i.e., when the 90th percentile is above the action level:
Lead Action Level: 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) = 15 parts per billion (ppb)
Copper Action Level: 1.3 mg/L (1300 ppb)
Lead Public Education
When there is a lead action level exceedance, the water system must issue lead public education explaining the lead results and about reducing exposure to lead with 24 hours. The template below includes the required language and information to be filled in about the specific water system (e.g., whether you have lead service lines, what water treatment is used) and recent lead results. A lead public education delivery certification form must be completed and returned to the Division within 10 days of issuing the education.
Corrosion Control and Reducing Lead and/or Copper
Water Quality Parameter Monitoring and Corrosion Control Treatment
After a lead or copper action level exceedance, the Division will send the water system a letter outlining compliance requirements and deadlines. This will usually include taking additional water quality samples at the entry point to distribution (a check on lead and copper; and for pH, alkalinity, calcium, and others that may affect corrosion). Based on that chemistry data, the water system must submit a corrosion control treatment (CCT) recommendation. We have developed a packet based on 2016 EPA guidance documents to help the water system review their data and narrow down appropriate CCT options.
CCT Recommendation Guidance including CCT Recommendation Form
Further compliance steps and deadlines including installation of CCT or optimization of existing CCT will depend on subsequent lead and copper results.
Following action level exceedances for lead or copper, the water system must collect a standard set of samples for lead and copper every 6 months and is likely to have additional water chemistry monitoring requirements. Failure to complete any of these activities before specified deadlines would result in a violation.
If you have questions about Lead and Copper Rule implementation in Vermont, please contact Compliance Section staff.