Carnegie Mellon University

Water Quality Management

The EHS Drinking Water Quality Program is a comprehensive program that oversees routine sampling of drinking water sources across CMU’s Pittsburgh campus. The purpose of the Drinking Water Quality Program is to identify drinking water fixtures, e.g. drinking water fountains, bottle fillers, and kitchen sinks, in CMU-owned buildings that may be contributing lead to the drinking water. Sampling for lead in drinking water aids in identifying fixtures with lead plumbing components by quantifying the concentration of lead in the water.

Questions related to the Drinking Water Quality Program or drinking water sampling locations and results can be directed to


Frequently Asked Questions

  • The main concern of lead exposure in drinking water is consumption—skin does not absorb lead, so showering and handwashing should not pose a high exposure risk. While anyone can experience health effects from consuming lead, it can most significantly impact young children, infants, and fetuses even at lower concentrations that might not affect an adult. Potential health problems in adults may include cardiovascular effects, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems. Potential health problems in children include lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.
  • Lead is not found in natural sources of water. Lead can enter drinking water when lead-containing plumbing systems that are internal to a building corrode due to the high acidity or low mineral content of the water that flows through them. Structures built prior to 1986 are more likely to have lead-containing plumbing systems.
  • Any outlet for potable water is a potential source of drinking water, e.g. water fountains, kitchen sinks, bathroom faucets, bottle fillers, etc. However, certain sources are more likely to be used for consumption than others. Sampling locations will be chosen based on potential for water consumption and risk of the sampling location to contain lead. High-priority fixtures include drinking fountains, bottle fillers, kitchen sinks, office lounge sinks, and any other fixture known to be used for water consumption. Typically, only high-priority fixtures will be sampled for lead. However, due to the greater likelihood of consumption from bathroom sinks in student housing, bathroom sinks will be sampled in these locations.
  • EHS will notify space occupants of drinking water sampling plans within a building in advance. Notice will be sent via FMS Announce and to appropriate faculty and/or staff for disbursement to their respective groups.
  • EHS will flush each identified drinking water fixture by turning on the cold water tap, if present, and allow the water to run for approximately one minute.
  • EHS will place signage on the water fixture, which indicates the water source should not be used by space occupants.
  • EHS will allow the drinking water source to sit unused for a period of 8-18 hours.
  • EHS will return to the water fixture within 8-18 hours to remove signage and collect a water sample. After the sample is successfully collected, space occupants can resume use of the drinking water fixture. If it appears that the water fixture has been used or if signage has been removed by someone other than EHS, the sampling process will be repeated starting at step 2.
  • EHS will send samples to a third-party laboratory to be analyzed for lead.
  • EHS will notify space occupants after approximately 2-4 weeks of sampling the results and any necessary remedial action.
  • Identified drinking water fixtures will be routinely sampled based on previous lead results and building age.
  • Where remediation is necessary based on lead concentrations in the water, additional sampling will be required.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a recommended action level for lead in drinking water which is 15 parts per billion (ppb). An exception to the EPA action level will be made for childcare locations, where the acceptable level will be reduced to 1 ppb lead with the intention of further reducing lead consumption by this more-sensitive population.
  • Where water samples from drinking water fixtures meet or exceed 15 ppb lead, the fixture will be removed from service as soon as it has been determined that an exceedance has occurred. Removal from service may include posting signage identifying that the fixture’s use is discontinued until further notice and/or turning off the water to the fixture. EHS will work with Facilities Management and Campus Services when shutdown of water is necessary and for subsequent remedial action.
  • Remedial action could include cleaning of the water fixture, replacement of the water fixture and its plumbing components, or installation of filtration.
  • After remedial action is completed by FMCS, follow-up water sampling will be conducted by EHS before the fixture is re-opened for use to determine if the remedial action successfully reduced lead content of the fixture’s water.
    1. Where lead results are below the action level, the fixture will be re-opened for use and re-sampled three additional times on a quarterly basis. If all three quarterly samples are below the action level, the fixture will remain in service and will be placed back in the standard, periodic sampling rotation. As soon as any of the three quarterly samples are identified to be above the action level, the fixture will be removed from service and undergo further remediation—quarterly sampling will re-start until sample results remain below the action level.
    2. Where lead results are above the action level, the fixture will remain out of service for use until a successful means of remediation is achieved and follow-up sampling results, as described above, remain below the action level.