Worry About Lead in Your Drinking Water, But Not From Stanley Cups

The trendy water bottles have raised concerns about lead poisoning. While experts say the cups are safe, here's where lead exposure is a problem in our lives and what we can do about it.

Colorful insulated cups with handles and straws on a shelf in a store.
Stanley tumblers are seen for sale at a store in San Francisco, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Eric Risberg / AP)

On TikTok, in Google search bars, and amidst Facebook group comment sections, thousands of people are worried and asking the same question, “does my Stanley Cup have lead?”

The viral tumblers were recently discovered to contain small amounts of lead in the base of the cup, surrounded by steel, to help insulate the contents from heat and cold.

The good news — according to experts, the lead component is separate enough from the contents of the cup that people do not need to worry.

The bad news — lead is more pervasive than most people realize, and while it may not be in your Stanley cup, there is a decent chance that you or your family and friends are being exposed to lead at this moment. The most common way is through drinking water. Across the country, homes, schools, and childcare facilities get their drinking water from lead service lines, lead-bearing plumbing and lead-bearing sinks, faucets, and other fixtures. That lead leeches into the water and then into our bodies. And unfortunately, there is no safe level of lead exposure.

While many people have heard of the lead contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan — which is still ongoing — most people do not realize that lead service lines are widely used in every single state. Washington, D.C., where I live now, had even higher lead levels than Flint during a crisis 20 years ago, and the fight to remove lead service lines here continues to this day. In New York City, where I grew up, an estimated 1 in 5 people may be drinking water from lead service lines.

However, there is a critical opportunity right now for people who are waking up to the dangers of lead exposure and want to protect themselves and their loved ones from further exposure. One way to do that is to change how our country regulates lead in drinking water. After decades of community advocacy and multiple lawsuits, including some filed by Earthjustice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the middle of revising regulations that govern how water systems across the country monitor for lead contamination and how fast they must remove lead service lines. The agency’s rule will also decide whether low-wealth communities with the most lead service lines bear most of the financial burden for this rule.

The EPA is currently taking input from the public. Every voice matters in this fight for environmental justice, and you should not have to continuously worry about the health and safety of your family. Tell the EPA to act swiftly to finalize the most protective standards possible so that people across the country are no longer endangered by hidden lead.

Here is what Earthjustice and our community partners are asking EPA to do in their new regulation:

Remove the exceptions to the 10-year lead pipe removal mandate: The most important part of EPA’s action is their requirement that most places remove all lead service lines within 10 years. However, under the proposal, the places with the most lead service lines or high concentrations of these lead pipes would potentially have decades of compliance extensions available. This is unjust and unneeded.

Remove the “access” loophole: The EPA’s mandate states that water systems must replace all lead service lines that they have physical or legal access to. However, its definition could leave out large numbers of lines and leave them in the ground in perpetuity, even though water systems can almost always access plumbing and water on a property in emergencies (like serious line breaks or, say, lead contaminations).

Require water systems fully pay for the removal of lead service lines: The proposed rule fails to mandate that water systems pay for removal of the entire lead service line. Removal of lead pipes can cost thousands of dollars, and putting a disproportionate financial burden on impacted low-wealth homeowners and renters will result in mostly wealthy and white neighborhoods having lead service lines replaced.

Public Education: “Right to know” reports, public notifications, and public education materials should include language that is clear about the possibility of lead exposure from drinking water even when the system as a whole is in compliance. Just because no law is broken doesn’t mean someone’s water is safe, and people should know what steps they can take to better protect themselves using filters.

Julian Gonzalez serves as senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice’s Healthy Communities team in Washington, D.C., where he is the lead lobbyist on water policy. Julian partners with community members and NGOs across the country to push for laws and regulations ensuring that everyone has access to clean water, and ensuring that all of our rivers, streams, and lakes have strong protections from pollution.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.