News Feature | October 27, 2017

As Infrastructure Woes Persist, Pittsburgh Turns To Chemicals For Lead Reduction

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


As one of many cities dealing with lead contamination of drinking water, Pittsburgh is exploring the potential that chemical treatment has to solve the problem.

Like much of the country, Pittsburgh’s lead issues stem from outdated infrastructure leaching the contaminant into water as it travels to consumers’ homes. But those fundamental infrastructure problems won’t be solved any time soon, so the local utility is exploring alternatives.

“It could take two decades and more than $360 million to extract every lead service line from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] system, a complicated process rife with regulation and politics,” per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Safer water, however, may not hinge on wholesale excavation. In a study underway at a treatment plant near Aspinwall, PWSA is investigating whether different additives in the tap water would rapidly prevent lead contamination across the system.”

The European consultant Mott MacDonald is investigating the use of orthophosphate and sodium silicate, two elements known to reduce corrosion of lead pipes. Local carpenters and electricians helped PWSA assemble a series of experimental lead and copper pipe loops that the utility is using to conduct the tests.

“Orthophosphate is generally considered to be the best method for reduction of lead,” David Cornwell, CEO at Cornwell Engineering Group, said, according to the Post-Gazette.

PWSA expects to have results from the study by the end of the year and will then submit its findings and seek approval for a switch to the new chemicals from the Department of Environmental Protection.

“PWSA expects to see full effects from the new treatment within six months to a year after its system-wide introduction,” the Post-Gazette reported.

To read more about lead issues around the country visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Pittsburgh," William Real, 2016, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: