Protecting the most vulnerable: Lead in drinking water testing requirements for child care facilities

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager and Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

[Updated April 2018 and June 2018] .  See here for the most up-to-date information on state testing requirements.

Children under the age of 6 are most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts of lead exposure. Even at low levels, lead exposure can harm the brain development of young children – resulting in learning and behavioral problems for the rest of their lives.

The recent national attention on lead in drinking water and reports of high levels in certain schools has spurred action to address the problem in schools. As a result of state-level requirements and voluntary state programs, many schools across the country are testing their drinking water for lead and taking actions to fix problems.

In contrast, child care (also called day care or early childhood education) has gone relatively unnoticed – even though such facilities serve children at their most vulnerable ages.

However, several states and cities have or are developing proactive programs requiring testing for lead in child care facilities’ drinking water and mandating action when high levels are found. Seven states – ConnecticutIllinois, New HampshireNew JerseyOregonRhode Island, and Washington – and one city – New York City– require licensed child care facilities to test their drinking water for lead [1].

State and City Requirements Regarding Lead in Drinking Water in Child Care Facilities

State or cityTesting FrequencyStandardCorrective ActionParent Notifications
License application and every 2 years. Greater than 15 parts per billion (ppb). Provide bottled water until remediation is completed. None.
Illinois (2017)For existing licensed facilities and prior to initial licensing application. If lead detected, retesting required six months followed by every year thereafter until at least 2 consecutive post-mitigation tests indicate no lead.2 ppb.Mitigation and implementation plan required.Testing information, results, and mitigation efforts provided in enrollment materials. Results posted in building.
New Hampshire (2018)By July 2019 for existing facilities that haven’t tested within 2 years and every 5 years thereafter. Testing not required after 3 consecutive rounds of sampling below the standard.Above applicable standard established by the EPA. If standard is changed, compare most recent results with the new standard.Provide water that meets the standard as an interim measure. Implement a remediation plan as approved by NH DHHS.Notify parents and guardians within 5 business days if samples are above standard.
New Jersey
(March 2017)
Initial or renewal application, relocation, as requested by state.Elevated as defined by NJDEP (currently 15 ppb).Provide bottled water for drinking and food preparation, label taps, and take remedial action.Results posted in building. Notify parents and NJDCF if elevated levels found.
Oregon (effective 9/30/18)By 9/30/18 for existing facilities, prior to licensure, and every 6 years thereafter.Equal to or greater than 15 ppb.Provide bottled water or use taps with samples <15 ppb, submit mitigation plan to OROCC, and take corrective action identified in approved plan within 30 days of approval.Results posted in building. Notify all parents and guardians of results.
Rhode Island
Prior to licensing and for license renewal if significant modifications made to plumbing system.Equal to or less than 15ppb in a flushed sample.Provide bottled water, label taps, and replace lead containing plumbing materials, or use certified filter, or submit specific remediation plan for approval.None.
(May 2017)
Prior to licensing and every 6 years thereafter.Above EPA Lead Action Level (currently 15 ppb). Close the program or supply bottled water and consult with WADOH, notify state licensing agency.Notify parents if above action level and again when levels are below action level.
New York City, NY
(Sept. 2016)
Within 60 days of opening, every 5 years thereafter.Equal to or greater than 15 ppb.Provide bottled water until remedial actions in corrective action plan completed.Results posted by city at Child Care Connect.

Click here for more information on each requirement, including the types of facilities covered, frequency of testing, and relevant resources.

The requirements vary widely in terms of testing protocol, standard, corrective action, and notification to parents. Several of these differences deserve attention.

Each of the requirements takes a different approach to the standard used for testing – the lead level at which corrective action and/or notification is required. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York City, and Rhode Island use 15 parts per billion (ppb). Washington specifies 15 ppb in the quality standards for early learning programs, but uses 20 ppb in practice, and Illinois uses 2 ppb.

These standards are not based on the health risk to children. In an earlier blog, we provide an assessment of a health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water. We derived our assessment from a recent EPA scientific analysis and suggest levels that would be more protective than EPA’s current guidelines.

Communicating with parents is a significant part of any testing program for lead in child care facilities, and EDF favors a transparent approach to testing. Not all of the regulations require notification of parents about testing results. New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington require notification of parents if the facility finds elevated levels of lead. Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon also require posting the results inside the facility. All testing information and mitigation efforts must be provided in enrollment materials in Illinois. New York City goes even further and makes all results available in an online database (Child Care Connect) that allows parents to search records for any licensed child care program in the city.

In addition, the types of facilities covered by the requirement varies significantly. We provide those details here. In general, the requirements do not apply to unlicensed facilities, which often includes small family child care facilities based in a caregiver’s home.

With the renewed attention on lead in drinking water, we encourage other states to adopt requirements to better protect children from lead exposure in child care facilities.


[1] There are additional federal requirements and some state requirements for child care facilities that operate their own publish water system. Additionally, some states have school testing requirements that apply to child care facilities on school property.

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