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Lead and Copper for users on Public Water Systems

Lead & Copper in Public Water Systems
If you pay a bill for your water, or your landlord or housing association pays a bill for your water, your drinking water comes from a public water supply. Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, all municipal and other public water supplies must be tested regularly for bacteria, man-made chemicals, naturally occurring radioactivity, and naturally occurring compounds. Schools and some places of business on their own wells are also public water supply systems, and are tested routinely.

The Vermont Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division (DWGPD) oversees the water quality monitoring schedules, compliance activities, and requirements of all public water systems. Public water systems are subject to regular inspections (surveys) and are permitted for specific forms of water treatment. Information about these water systems and any elevated results are public and are included in the annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) - which is sent to everyone who pays a water bill.

If you have a concern about specific public water supply test results or you would like to request a copy of the CCR for your water system, please call the local number listed on your water bill, or call the Vermont DWGPD toll-free in Vermont at 800-823-6500.

Public water systems sample for lead and copper at a number of monitoring sites determined by the total number of people served by the system. The Lead & Copper Rule requires system-wide remediation when the concentration of lead or copper exceeds the Action Level in 10 percent or more of the required samples.

There can be a degree of confidence that lead and copper levels in drinking water are at safe levels when a water system continually posts lab results below Action Levels at the 90th percentile, but it does not necessarily mean that lead and copper are not to be found in excess of Federal standards in drinking water coming from your own tap. That is because by Rule the system must sample at only a representative sampling of all taps – and that it is able to (in effect) disregard the highest 10 percent of results.

You cannot see, smell, or taste lead or copper in drinking water. Therefore, the only way to know if lead and copper levels in your drinking water are below Federally-established action levels is to have it tested. To have drinking water tested for lead and for copper costs anywhere from $20 to $25. A listing of laboratories certified for drinking water analysis by the Vermont Department of Health is available by following the link below to the Vermont Department of Health Website.

NOTE: In the Department’s table, lead and copper testing is subsumed within a category called Inorganic Chemistry (IOC)


Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLG): It is a Federal and State goal to supply water with no lead and with no more than 1.3 milligrams of copper per liter (mg/L) of water. These are non-enforceable health goals.

Action Levels: For public water systems, when the concentration of lead or copper reaches the Action Level in 10 percent or more of the required samples, the water system is required to carry out the water treatment requirements of the Lead & Copper Rule. The values in the table below should offer good rules of thumb for you when trying to make sense of the lab reports you receive with lead and copper sampling results.


MCLG (mg/L)

Action Level (mg/L)



> 0.015



> 1.3

Reducing Your Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

Treatment Options for Lead & Copper in Drinking Water
If lab results indicate that either lead or copper is present in drinking water at levels causing concern, the first course of action is to identify the source. A plumber can help you determine if lead or copper pipes are present and the feasibility of replacing these. Where possible and cost-effective, eliminate the source of lead and copper in drinking water by replacing lead and copper plumbing components with approved plastic options.

Treating drinking water corrosivity (water with a low pH) is an option that requires a technician familiar with corrosion control treatment systems. A point-of-entry system provides whole house-treatment which may be preferable to dealing with each and every faucet in the house individually.. Depending on the particular water chemistry of your drinking water you can consider, for example, a calcite treatment system for pH adjustment.

There are many filtering devices certified for effective lead or copper reduction, but devices that are not designed to remove lead or copper won’t offer much reduction of lead and copper health risks. Filtration systems use various types of filtering media such as carbon, ion exchange, resins, activated alumina, and other materials. Unless such filtering devices have been certified to remove lead or copper by the National Sanitation Foundation International or the Water Quality Association, their effectiveness should not be assumed.

Flushing your tap water for at least fifteen (15) seconds first thing in the morning before drinking or using it is an effective way to reduce exposure to lead and copper in drinking water. Water flushed from the tap can be used for watering plants, washing dishes, or cleaning. Avoid cooking with or drinking water from hot water taps because hot water dissolves lead and copper more readily than cold water does.

Lead Public Education Resources

Lead & Copper in Drinking Water: Resources for Schools and Daycare Centers


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VT DEC Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division 1 National Life Drive, Main Building, 2nd Floor  Montpelier, VT  05620-3521
Telephone 802-828-1535    Fax: 802-828-1541

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