Fountain tested for lead

Catawba Riverkeeper Tests Park Fountains for Lead

Lead is one of the most well-known — and dangerous — water contaminants because of its ability to accumulate and its potent effect on children.

Old pipes and other parts of the water infrastructure are made out of lead. Especially when water sits, the lead leaches into water to create potentially high levels.

Recent testing of drinking water fountains at parks in Chicago revealed high levels (above EPA standards) of lead at hundreds of fountains.

The Catawba Riverkeeper tested five fountains at parks around Charlotte on the morning of July 10, 2018, with WSOC Channel 9 (ABC), whose sister station in Chicago (ABC 7) had been performing its own investigations in the past.


  • Romare Bearden Park: <1 μg/L
  • Alexander Street Park: 2 μg/L
  • Independence Park: 2 μg/L
  • Veterans Park: <1 μg/L
  • Freedom Park: <1 μg/L

Fountain tested for lead

What does this mean? Lead is regulated by a treatment technique that requires systems to control the corrosiveness of their water. If more than 10% of tap water samples exceed the action level, water systems must take additional steps. The action level for lead is 0.015 mg/L (15 μg/L). At least this small sampling of parks does not appear to have a lead problem.

Samples collected were ‘first draw’ (250 mL) and collected throughout the morning and then run through a state-certified lab via ICP mass spectrometry. Joggers and dog walkers use parks in the evenings and early mornings, so it is difficult to control for how much flushing had already occurred. Still, we wanted to get a sample of the water a random person would be exposed to if visiting the fountains in the mornings. It is interesting to note that to two locations with detectable lead were the two parks that appeared to have the least activity (actually, no one in sight), while the other three parks all had people around.

Park fountains tested for lead
Park fountains tested for lead

A special rule regulating lead was passed by the EPA in 1991 and has since undergone revisions. Maximum contaminant levels and goals for lead and other contaminants can be found in the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (part of the Safe Drinking Water Act), available here. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that no level of lead is safe, the goal is to have zero lead in water. In infants and children, lead can cause delays in physical or mental development; children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults can experience kidney problems and high blood pressure.

In Chicago, the problem is much more pervasive. An excerpt from a piece run 5/14/18 by Chicago news station’s ABC 7:

Monday the Park District announced that of 1,250 water fountains, approximately 550 – or nearly half — in “low traffic areas” will remain shut off until they are remediated or removed. Five hundred fountains will return to push button use and 100 will never be shut off, continuously flowing in high traffic areas. One hundred other fountains have been removed.

Leaving some 100 fountains continuously on, district officials believe, will keep lead levels below what the EPA deems unsafe.