Review of Lead in Water Testing Requirements for California Childcare Centers


Lead in drinking water presents very real public health risks, especially for children. In children, lead exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. No safe level of lead exposure in children has been identified. The latest round in the battle to get the lead out has landed with the California Department of Social Services (DSS) Provider Information Notice (PIN) Summary 21-21-CCP. This notice and associated procedures require all licensed Child Care Centers (CCCs) in California that were constructed before January 1, 2010, to test drinking water for lead in compliance with Assembly Bill (AB) 2370, Chapter 676, Statutes of 2018. While there are plenty of detailed requirements in the PIN that should be thoroughly reviewed by impacted facilities, FACS has put together the following highlights.

Testing for lead in drinking water. Illustration.

Process Overview:

  1. Facility Mapping. Inventory all water outlets and determine which ones need to be sampled per stated criteria (essentially those where water may be consumed or used for food preparation).
  2. Pre-Sampling Flush. 8-18 hours before sampling, flush, bag, and tag all outlets to be sampled and ensure no water is used at the entire facility for 8 hours before sampling.
  3. Sampling. Have samples collected by a “Certified External Water Sampler” and submitted to a State of California accredited environmental laboratory.
  4. Corrective Actions. If an outlet is over the action level (> 5 ppb) indicated for childcare centers, develop a “Plan of Correction” within 10 days and ensure affected outlets are not used.
  5. Follow-Up Sampling. Following completion of corrective actions, conduct follow-up sampling at affected outlets after proper conditioning.
  6. Repeat. Sampling of outlets must be done every 5 years and the action level applied is subject to change with a goal of achieving 0 ppb lead in drinking water.

Key Considerations:

Getting Set for Sampling. The requirements are detailed and impactful. Flushing of outlets to be sampled must be done 8-18 hours before sampling and they may not be used (nor leak) thereafter until sampling is completed. All other outlets may not be used 8 hours before sampling (e.g., no landscape sprinklers, no flushing of toilets, no leaking fixtures, etc.). It also explicitly states that sampling cannot occur during extended breaks, vacations, holidays, or other shutdowns. Practically, this means sampling and associated preparation must occur after/before business hours and on the weekends.

Sample More than the Minimum? Collection of a “30-second flush” sample is required for at least one outlet in each building. However, consistent with EPA “3Ts” guidance, consideration should be given to taking such samples at all sampled outlets (and incoming water) for analysis pending results of the first draw samples[TP1] . These additional samples may better inform the development of corrective actions, as well as save the time and expense of additional preparation/sampling events after the receipt of first-draw sample results.

Be Ready to Respond. Completed forms are required within 2 weeks of sampling and corrective action plans are required within 10 days of receipt of results. Other time requirements for providing photos and informing potentially affected occupants may apply as well.

The Devil is in the Details. In addition to the requirements discussed above, there are specific state-mandated forms to be used and signed through the process, educational and experience requirements for samplers, requirements for labs, decision criteria, sampling conventions, and timeframes.

What Level is Safe? The recent California school lead in water testing program applied an action level of 15 ppb, while these new childcare requirements use an action level of 5 ppb. There are also additional even lower guidance levels from respected authorities, including: a California public health goal of 0.2 ppb, an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of 1 ppb (for school water fountains), and a U.S. EPA goal of 0 ppb. Although you may fall under the stated action level of this new requirement, your stakeholder community may have an expectation that levels be reduced even further. FACS has seen this dynamic occur in school board meetings and has advised clients on setting policies and managing risk communication.

Lead in drinking water guidance levels. Illustration.

Getting the Lead Out. Even in the absence of action level exceedances, consideration should be given to implementing a program to reduce lead levels in water to protect public health, address stakeholder concerns, and to be prepared for future reductions in the action level. This may include flow management, replacement of plumbing components, and use of water filters, among other strategies. The EPA “3T’s” guidance provides excellent resources for implementing such a program.

We’re Here to Help

FACS water quality subject matter experts and qualified water samplers are ready to partner with you to address these issues and protect your people, resources, and reputation. Give us a call at (888) 711-9998 or reach out using our contact form today.