Lead in Child Care Drinking Water

Children six years old and younger are the most susceptible to the effects of lead exposure. Licensed child care programs in Washington are required to test their drinking water for lead and copper when seeking licensure and every six years after (WAC 110-300-0235). Child care programs must test fixtures that supply water for drinking, cooking, or preparing food or formula.

DOH offers free water testing through the Environmental Protection Agency’s WIIN Grant. The Department of Health (DOH) has identified over 5,500 licensed childcare programs serving approximately 178,000 children. Register for our free lead and copper testing program. DOH staff will follow up with additional details. If you have questions or want more information about the free testing program, contact us at leadfreekids@doh.wa.gov or 564-669-1098.

How does lead get into drinking water?

There are many sources of lead exposure, including drinking water. Lead can enter 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 get 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 release 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’s 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.

While there is no safe level of lead exposure, the likelihood of drinking water alone causing an elevated blood lead level is very low. More common sources of lead exposure include dust from old, deteriorating lead paint, contaminated soil, and lead dust tracked into the childcare from outside sources, like parents and regular visitors who work in industries where lead is present.

How does DOH’s water testing program work?

Child care programs will self-collect water samples and send them to the DOH Public Health Laboratory for testing. DOH will send your child care all the needed materials to collect and ship water samples back to our lab. Follow these instructions to collect and ship water samples (PDF).  You can also watch this video to learn how to collect water samples.

Once the lab receives your water samples, it can take up to two weeks to get test results. Once results are in, DOH staff will help child care providers:

  • Interpret and understand results.
  • Request follow up testing.
  • Communicate with families, staff, and the community about test results.
  • Provide resources to help fix any identified issues.

View Test Results (PDF) - updated January, 2023. The test results will be updated quarterly.

What actions are needed after testing?

The actions you need to take after lead testing depend on your test results. Child care programs must take steps to correct systems with lead results at or above 15 parts per billion (ppb) and copper levels at or above 1300 ppb. Actions may include the following:

  • Advise staff to run the water for a few seconds before drinking or cooking.
  • Remove or replace fixtures that may contain lead.
  • Provide bottled water.
  • Repair the plumbing system.
  • Use only cold water for drinking, preparing formula or cooking.
  • Install water treatment devices.


For child care programs that have lead results of 15ppb or higher, DOH will provide more information about actions required to reduce lead levels in drinking water.


Are there other options to test for lead in drinking water?

Participation in the WIIN testing program is completely voluntary. If a child care program chooses not to participate in the WIIN testing program through DOH, they are still required to test their water per WAC 110-300-0235. They can contract with a laboratory accredited by the Washington State Department of Ecology to test lead in drinking water. List of drinking water labs (PDF) developed by the Department of Ecology Lab Accreditation Unit.