News Feature | December 26, 2016

EPA Rules Make It Hard For Pittsburgh To Test For Lead Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


Pittsburgh water officials are running into a regulatory challenge when it comes to understanding lead contamination in the city.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) Acting Chief of Water Quality Gina Cyprych said “that lead service lines are tested throughout the city, but testing in the most vulnerable homes is only done for those who respond to a letter sent to them by the PWSA, volunteering to have their water checked. The U. S. EPA mandates that testing only be done at homes where the homeowner has given consent to do so,” WPXI reported.

Due to EPA regulations requiring ratepayer consent, current data does not provide a full picture of the lead problem in the entire city of Pittsburgh. Instead, the numbers only show what is going on in certain neighborhoods, WPXI reported.

“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority provided 95 zip codes in which homes were tested for lead this summer. Of those, 24 were in and around Squirrel Hill, with another 11 in East Liberty and Highland Park. Fewer than five tests were done in Homewood and the Hill District combined,” WPXI reported.

“PWSA officials said they’re hopeful that EPA regulations will change, allowing them to test the drinking water in homes beyond those who volunteer,” the report continued.  

Cyprych said understanding the breadth of the problem is important for solving it. “You really do need to understand how big the problem is. That's one of the things we're continuing to work on,” she said.

Activist Rashad Byrdsong of the Community Empowerment Association described the problem with requiring ratepayers to respond to a letter before testing occurs.

"There's a host of social issues impacting our community. I don't think a letter is at the top of the list,” he said, per WPXI. He called for an organized, comprehensive strategy to address contamination testing.

Officials in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have come under fire in recent months for their approach to lead oversight. “An audit has concluded that the Allegheny County Health Department isn’t providing adequate oversight of 36 community water supplies and hasn’t appropriately responded to tests showing high lead levels in some city drinking water samples,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this month.

“But the health department replied that it’s doing what the law allows and said the human health risk from lead in Pittsburgh’s water pales in comparison to the risk from exposure to flaking and deteriorating lead paint,” the report said.

Over the past few years, the city has faced extensive criticism for problems with its water service.

“First customers had issues with inaccurate and untimely bills. Then the public was outraged by an across-the-board rate hike. And most recently, Pittsburghers have been reeling at news that the PWSA's water surpassed the federal lead limit,” Pittsburgh City Paper recently reported.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has posted literature to educate ratepayers about lead in water.

For more about how utilities interact with ratepayers visit Water Online’s Consumer Outreach Solutions Center.

Image credit: "pittsburgh," john marino © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: