Drinking Water | 4 MIN READ

Communicating About Lead in Drinking Water

April 30, 2024 By Brian Scadova-Vose, Community Specialist, RCAP Solutions

Under the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR), Public Water Systems are required to create a lead service line inventory (LSLI) and make it accessible to customers by October 16, 2024. Under the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), new public notification and education requirements may be required to protect public health. These changes necessitate public outreach strategies for utilities that may not have previously prioritized it.

Lead is now widely known to be a toxic substance, commonly found in older plumbing materials (pipes, joints, and solder) and paint. Exposure to lead in drinking water or airborne particulates is of particular concern to children, whose developing bodies absorb more lead than adults. Lead exposure can significantly inhibit children’s learning development, emotional regulation, and motor skills. Regrettably, lead was widely used as a water distribution material in the early 1900s and was not banned by the EPA until 1986. The lingering presence of lead in drinking water infrastructure continues to pose health risks to consumers. This is perhaps best illustrated by the Flint Water Crisis, where a change in water source caused lead corrosion in water distribution piping and impacted the health of over 99,000 people. The Flint Water Crisis, among others, has played a large role in increased public scrutiny of drinking water.

Public confidence in drinking water is critical to the survival of a water utility. Trust between consumer and provider can be achieved through proactive, transparent communication efforts on the part of the utility. So, let’s look at how we can talk about lead in drinking water more effectively, and places to promote the quality of a water system’s product:

If there is lead in the system you represent, be transparent about it.

  • It’s unlikely that where lead is present, the current utility staff had anything to do with its installation. That said, consumers should still be empowered to protect their health and be made aware of any dangers associated with water consumption.

Post educational information that promotes public health. Water utilities have the expertise to provide best-practices information to promote safe drinking water consumption. Some helpful tips utilities can provide to consumers include:

  • Clean faucet screens routinely.
  • Install point-of-use filters or use filtered pitchers (adhering to standards from the National Science Foundation and the American National Standards Institute).
  • Use cold water for cooking, drinking, and preparing baby formula.
  • Flush pipes for 2-5 minutes after 4-6 hours of stagnation.

Proactively engage with consumers about lead-related projects. Consider providing information about lead service line replacement projects and lead service line inventory information voluntarily. A proactive utility will engage with the public before there’s a problem and can promote the good work they’re doing to address lead in drinking water. Places to post information may include:

  • Webpages & Social Media
  • Consumer Confidence Reports
  • Customer invoices
  • Local papers or bulletins
  • Doorhangers & flyers

Create a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on one of the aforementioned outlets. An FAQ is a great way to quickly communicate answers to common questions, and it can reduce the frequency of information requests from customers. Also use language and terminology your customers can understand. It may also be useful to utility employees!

Know the community: Understanding the needs of your consumers right down to how they access information is crucial to a successful outreach campaign. Luckily, materials exist to help utilities form strategies and overcome obstacles, including language barriers. Here are some resources to get the ball rolling:

With these tips and revisions under the LCRR, we hope utilities can continue being proactive with their consumers regarding lead levels in drinking water.

This article was funded by RCAP’s EPA NPA 1 22 – 24 grant. 

By Brian Scadova-Vose, Community Specialist, RCAP Solutions

More from the Drop of Knowledge