Lead in Child Care Drinking Water

Child care programs in Washington are required to test their drinking water for lead (WAC 110-300-0235). Want to participate in the Department of Health’s (DOH) free testing program? Fill out our interest form or visit the lead in drinking water in child care programs testing page to learn more.

How does lead get into drinking water?

Lead enters from a building’s plumbing system. It may be in various parts of the plumbing system (such as lead solder, brass fixtures, and lead or galvanized pipes) and leach into water standing in the system.

The amount of lead in drinking water depends on how corrosive the water is, and what materials the plumbing system is made of. The age of the building does not matter. Even new plumbing fixtures can leach lead into drinking water. The longer water stands in the plumbing system, the more lead it can absorb. Learn more about lead in drinking water, other common sources, and health effects of lead (PDF)

Why is lead a problem and how can children be exposed to lead?

Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Even at very low levels of exposure to lead, children may experience effects including lower IQ levels, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, poor classroom performance, or other harmful physical and behavioral effects.

There are many sources of lead exposure, including drinking water. Learn more about the health effects of lead, common sources, and how to prevent exposure.

What is DOH doing to test for lead in drinking water in child care programs?

Lead is a serious health concern especially for children in child care programs. In these settings, water is used for drinking, preparing food and infant formula, brushing teeth, and washing hands. 

DOH received an EPA WIIN Grant to test lead in drinking water at child care programs. WAC 110-300-0235 requires child care programs to test for lead and copper in their drinking water when seeking licensure and every six years after that. Participating in the DOH testing program is a way to meet this requirement at no cost to the child care program.

DOH has identified over 5,500 licensed child care programs serving approximately 178,000 children who could benefit from testing for lead in drinking water. The program will prioritize licensed child care programs that:

  • Are in low-income areas
  • Primarily care for children six years and under
  • Are in older buildings that are more likely to contain lead plumbing (e.g., buildings built before the lead ban of 1988)

To allow for maximum participation in the program, child care programs must collect water samples and send them to the DOH Public Health Laboratory for analysis. DOH will provide training on this process. After testing is completed, DOH will contact child care programs to share test results and guidance on communication and remediation.

The testing program will begin in January 2022 and run until September of 2022. DOH intends to request an extension until 2023 or until funds run out.  We will update these web pages as implementation continues.

What are my options for testing for lead in drinking water?

Child care programs in Washington are required to regularly test for lead and copper in their drinking water (WAC 110-300-0235). However, participation in the WIIN testing program is completely voluntary.

Child care programs that participate in the WIIN testing program must collect their own water samples and send them to DOH Public Health Laboratory for analysis. DOH will provide training on taking water samples and provide a prepaid shipping label. When collecting samples, child care programs must follow DOH sampling procedures (PDF).

If a child care program chooses not to participate in the WIIN testing program, they are still required to test their water. They can contract with a laboratory accredited by the Washington State Department of Ecology to test lead in drinking water and must follow DOH sampling procedures (PDF). The Department of Ecology Lab Accreditation Unit developed a list of drinking water labs.

How can child care programs reduce lead levels in drinking water?

If testing shows harmful levels of lead in drinking water, child care programs can take these steps to reduce lead:

  • Advise staff to run the water for a few seconds before drinking or helping children drink.
  • Remove or replace fixtures that leach lead.
  • Provide bottled water.
  • Repair the plumbing system.
  • Use only the cold-water tap for drinking, preparing juice or cooking.
  • Install water treatment devices.

Rules and Regulations

WAC 110-300-0235 requires that all early learning child care programs test their drinking water for lead and copper at the time of licensure and once every 6 years thereafter. Specifically, child care programs must test fixtures that supply water for drinking, cooking, or preparing food or formula. While child care programs are required to test their drinking water for lead, participation in the WIIN testing program is voluntary.

The 1988 federal Lead Contamination Control Act (LCCA), was intended to reduce lead exposure, and any health risks, in drinking water at schools and child care programs. The focus of the LCCA was to remove drinking water coolers with lead-lined tanks.  Although the LCCA had monitoring and reporting requirements for schools and child care programs, it was challenged in court and cannot be enforced.

More Resources