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Drinking Water and Lead

A high level of lead in drinking water can cause health problems, particularly in children. That’s why DHEC works to ensure that public water systems adhere to drinking water quality standards and regulations. Lead is rarely in drinking water when it leaves the treatment plant; however, it can seep into the water from old plumbing along the way.

How Lead Gets into Drinking Water

Public water systems perform routine tests guided by federal and state standards to make sure the amount of lead in drinking water remains at a safe level. If the level rises too high, the Environmental Protection Agency requires action. The EPA's Action Level for lead in drinking water is greater than 15 parts per billion or .015 mg/L. The state's Safe Drinking Water Regulation (R.61-58) also requires specific actions to protect the public. If a public water system exceeds the lead action level, it must:

When water stands in lead pipes or plumbing systems containing lead for several hours, the lead may dissolve into your drinking water. If you have lead pipes or plumbing that contains lead, the first water drawn from the tap in the morning, or later in the afternoon if the water has not been used all day, can contain high levels of lead.

Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2 percent lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8 percent.

How DHEC Helps Keep Your Drinking Water Safe

DHEC regulates public water systems to make sure they comply with drinking water standards and helps them produce the best possible water quality. DHEC provides Suggested Directions for Homeowner Tap Sample Collection Procedures (pdf).

Public water systems perform routine tests guided by federal and state standards to make sure the amount of lead in drinking water remains at a safe level. If the level rises too high, the Environmental Protection Agency requires action. The EPA's Action Level for lead in drinking water is greater than 15 parts per billion or .015 mg/L. The state's Safe Drinking Water Regulation (R.61-58) also requires specific actions to protect the public. If a public water system exceeds the lead action level, it must:

  • Provide public education to every person served by their system (and submit proof that they did so to DHEC within 30 days).
  • Collect and distribute additional samples to DHEC within 30 days.
  • Conduct source water monitoring.
  • Submit a plan for controlling corrosion to DHEC.

Lead Data

Find information about lead monitoring and detection in public water systems over the past five years.

View Data (pdf)

Quick Facts

Of the 695 public water systems that we monitor for lead:

  • 667 (or 96%) have not had excessive levels (greater than .015 mg/L) in the last five years (2011-15).
  • No large public water systems (serving more than 50,000 customers) have exceeded the EPA’s lead action level in the last five years.
  • 28 (or 4%) public water systems have had a sampling round that exceeded the EPA’s lead action level of greater than 15 parts per billion in the last five years.

How to Reduce Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water

Flush Your System

Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your health. It typically uses less than one to two gallons of water.

Let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking if the faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. The longer water stays in plumbing the more lead it may contain. To flush the tap, run the cold water faucet for about 15-40 seconds. Although toilet flushing or showering flushes water through a portion of the plumbing system, you still need to flush each faucet before using it for drinking or cooking.

Use Only Cold Water for Cooking and Drinking

Do not cook with, or drink water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and then heat it.

Is Your Water from a Public Water System?

If you receive a water bill, then your drinking water most likely is from a public water system. Public water systems (that serve the same people year round) are required by law to provide their customers with a water quality report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). For more information, click here.

Have a private well?

If your drinking water comes from a private well, it is up to you to make sure it is safe. Be sure to test your well water for contaminants.

Learn more about how to protect your family from  lead exposure.