Environmental Health and Safety
Frequently Asked Questions

​Q: Why is CMS conducting lead in drinking water testing?

A: CMS is voluntarily conducting the water testing program to ensure safe drinking water within the schools to identify and correct consumption points that show lead and copper concentrations over the EPA (EPA) and State of North Carolina action levels. Current state and federal laws do not require schools, like CMS, that purchase water from a Public Water System to test for lead. The Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rule requires Public Water Systems to sample for lead at single family dwellings. The most typical type of Public Water System is a municipally-owned drinking water utility, which must adhere to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and North Carolina Drinking Water Standards (NC DWS) that regulate the quality of water delivered to the public.

Q: What are the Action Levels for lead and copper?

A: The CMS water testing program uses action levels for drinking water by the State of North Carolina of 0.015 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead and 1.3 mg/l or 1,300 ppb for copper, slightly more stringent than the action level from the EPA (the applicable action level for the CMS water testing program). It is important to note the action levels are not direct measures of health effects; they serve as signals of when to take steps to reduce the lead and/or copper concentrations in the water.

Q: What is the action level for lead in school drinking water?

A: The EPA recommends that action be taken at a specific outlet when the lead concentration is over 20 parts per billion (ppb). (Note: this is different from the 15 ppb action level required for public water systems).

Q: How can I learn more about lead testing?

A: Visit this website. EPA drinking water in schools . There are several documents available that details how to test for lead in drinking water in schools.

Q: Why are the lead action levels different for public water systems and schools?

A: The two lead action levels differ because of the different problems they seek to detect and the different monitoring protocols used in the two situations. The 20 ppb action level and sampling protocol for lead in schools is designed to pinpoint specific water fountains and outlets that require remediation (e.g., water cooler replacement). The 15 ppb action level and sampling protocol for public water systems is designed to identify system-wide problems and not problems in single outlets (56 FR 26460, 26479; June 7, 1991).

Q: How can lead get into the water supply?

A: The Public Water System, Charlotte Water, is the water supply to the majority of CMS schools. The potable water pumped to the water distribution system from the water treatment plants meets federal and state standards for lead. Where lead comes from is the pipe and plumbing fixtures that release metal into the water it comes in contact with, particularly those that contain lead such as lead solder, brass fittings and old fixtures. Lead sources and lead levels vary between buildings and individual fixtures, so it is important to identify and remove lead sources in each building.

Q: What about brass fittings?

A: A significant amount of plumbing has brass components, which may contain lead. Until 2014, brass faucets and fittings sold in the United States and labeled ‘lead-free’ could still contain up to 8 percent lead. Effective January 2014, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act specifies that these materials may not contain more than 0.25% lead.

Q: What is a consumption point?

A: A consumption point is a water testing location where the general public can obtain drinking water or use the water for food preparation. All working consumption points for a school were tested for lead and copper in the drinking water. Example consumption points include food preparation areas, ice makers, nurse’s stations, home economics classrooms, teacher lounges and drinking water fountains, coolers and bubblers.

Q: What schools are sampled as part of the program?

A: Schools with current or future use buildings constructed on or before 1989 have been identified by CMS as the most at risk. Until 1987, lead and copper containing pipe, solder, and fittings were widely used during construction in the United States. Schools built on or before 1989 were prioritized for this program. Additionally, elementary schools were prioritized based on the age of the school population. Children under the age of six years old are the highest risk population for elevated blood lead levels, therefore schools with elementary programs, including pre-kindergarten, (PK-5, K-8 and K-12) were tested.

Q: What do I do if I have questions about the results?

A: You can contact your school or email at: ehs@cms.k12.nc.us

Q: The lead levels at our school are above 15 ppb (parts per billion). Should we be concerned?

A: Lead in water measured above 15 ppb does not necessarily mean people will have elevated blood lead levels in their bodies. The 15 ppb is considered an “action level.” When levels of more than 15 ppb were found, CMS took immediate steps to reduce lead in the water by taking that consumption point out of service permanently, or replacing/repairing the consumption point. All consumption points that were repaired or replaced were retested to confirm the lead action level was met prior to allowing that consumption point to be brought back into service. In addition, the lead level is not a measure of the lead present in the water during continued use throughout the school day. This level was measured when water was sitting in the pipes or water fountain for a period of several hours without being used in order to get an idea of what the highest level of lead in the water is likely to be.

Q: What are the health concerns from lead exposure?

A: Young children are most at risk to lead exposure as they are still developing, have a tendency to put objects in their mouths. In children, lead poisoning can cause slowed development, reading and other learning problems, behavior problems, as well as brain, liver, and kidney damage. Pregnant women can also pass lead to their unborn babies. The only way to know if you or your child has been exposed to lead is to have your health care provider do a simple blood lead test, typically a simple finger stick procedure. Additional resources can be obtained from the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

P.O. Box 30035
Charlotte, NC 28230-0035
Phone: 980-343-3000
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website (www.cms.k12.nc.us) is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Any website accessibility concerns may be brought via the following, Email the Web Accessibility Team at WebAccessibility or Call: 980.343.0115. In compliance with Federal Law, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administers all education programs, employment activities and admissions without discrimination against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Inquiries regarding compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities, may be referred to the District's Title IX Coordinator at titleixcoordinator or to the Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Education.