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A national survey of lead and other metal(loids) in residential drinking water in the United States



Exposure to lead (Pb), arsenic (As) and copper (Cu) may cause significant health issues including harmful neurological effects, cancer or organ damage. Determination of human exposure-relevant concentrations of these metal(loids) in drinking water, therefore, is critical.


We sought to characterize exposure-relevant Pb, As, and Cu concentrations in drinking water collected from homes participating in the American Healthy Homes Survey II, a national survey that monitors the prevalence of Pb and related hazards in United States homes.


Drinking water samples were collected from a national survey of 678 U.S. homes where children may live using an exposure-based composite sampling protocol. Relationships between metal(loid) concentration, water source and house age were evaluated.


18 of 678 (2.6%) of samples analyzed exceeded 5 µg Pb L1 (Mean = 1.0 µg L1). 1.5% of samples exceeded 10 µg As L1 (Mean = 1.7 µg L1) and 1,300 µg Cu L1 (Mean = 125 µg L1). Private well samples were more likely to exceed metal(loid) concentration thresholds than public water samples. Pb concentrations were correlated with Cu and Zn, indicative of brass as a common Pb source is samples analyzed.


Results represent the largest national-scale effort to date to inform exposure risks to Pb, As, and Cu in drinking water in U.S. homes using an exposure-based composite sampling approach.

Impact Statement

To date, there are no national-level estimates of Pb, As and Cu in US drinking water collected from household taps using an exposure-based sampling protocol. Therefore, assessing public health impacts from metal(loids) in drinking water remains challenging. Results presented in this study represent the largest effort to date to test for exposure-relevant concentrations of Pb, As and Cu in US household drinking water, providing a critical step toward improved understanding of metal(loid) exposure risk.

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Data availability

Data presented in this publication are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank Bill Thayer for his assistance with statistical methods. We thank Alicia Kirby and Kelsey Miller for reviewing the manuscript. The manuscript has been reviewed in accordance with EPA policy and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that contents necessarily reflect views and policies of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development funded the AHHS II field study collection of the drinking water samples. EPA did not receive financial assistance in support of this study.

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Authors and Affiliations



PJA and WF and EAP of HUD and DC and GD of QuanTech led the AHHS II study design, implementation, and field study. MRS, JT, and DAL designed the sampling protocol for drinking water collection. KDB, TDS, KK, CMN and MDB led the Pb drinking water analyses. All authors contributed to the development and writing of this manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Karen D. Bradham.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical approval

EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), Center for Environmental Measurement and Modeling was not directly engaged in the collection of information from human subjects. HUD’s contractor, QuanTech, conducted the field study and collected the drinking water samples. QuanTech received IRB Approval CR00077983 for HUD OHHLHC - AHHS II, American Healthy Homes Survey (AHHS) II (Pro00019737). According to the requirements of EPA Order 1000.17 A (Policy and Procedures on Protection of Human Research Subjects) and EPA Regulation 40 CFR 26 (Protection of Human Subjects), it was determined that the EPA investigators were not engaged in human subjects research (HSR-001225).

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Bradham, K.D., Nelson, C.M., Sowers, T.D. et al. A national survey of lead and other metal(loids) in residential drinking water in the United States. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 33, 160–167 (2023).

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  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Copper
  • Drinking water
  • Human exposure.

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