News Feature | January 26, 2018

Amid Lead Challenges, State Heightens Pittsburgh Water Oversight

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

As Pittsburgh faces high lead levels in city drinking water, Pennsylvania is considering a proposal to increase state oversight of the struggling water system.

“Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) customers would be able to take complaints about the troubled authority directly to a state agency under a preliminary order the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission adopted [in January],” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

“PWSA would be the only public utility to fall under the commission's oversight if the plan takes effect April 2 as planned,” the report said.

A law signed by Governor Tom Wolf in December opened the door to this intervention, the report said. PWSA has been struggling with billing issues, water quality, and infrastructure challenges, the report said. It also “has exceeded a federal lead level threshold since summer 2016,” the report said.

In fact, the latest round of testing reveals lead levels have risen in city water lines.

“Targeted tests of homes served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority have again exceeded a key federal threshold for lead contamination, the utility said [on January 22],” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“Of samples taken last month by customers themselves at 114 high-risk residential addresses, 90 percent showed lead at 21 parts per billion or fewer, according to estimated results shared by PWSA. That’s up from test results for June, when 90 percent showed lead at 15 ppb or fewer,” the report said.

The U.S EPA’s action level for lead is 15 ppb. The utility has made an online map available to check where trouble areas are.

“Until we receive regulatory approval of treatment improvements, we expect that the lead levels found in high-risk homes will remain consistent. PWSA is doing everything possible to apply treatment improvements that have been shown to reduce levels of lead in other cities,” PWSA’s Interim Executive Director Robert Weimar said in a statement.

The utility plans to reduce lead levels through corrosion control, WESA reported.

“We have identified and sent to the state a recommendation for applying orthophosphate to the water, and as a result, we will be able to show much less lead corrosion,” Weimar said, per the report.

To read more about how utilities control lead visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.