News Feature | May 18, 2017

Replacing Water Laterals In Pittsburgh May Endanger Health

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

pittsburgh reg new.jpg

Pittsburgh is trying to address lead in drinking water, but some officials say it is actually making the problem worse.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said partial replacement of lead water laterals is endangering public health, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She said this strategy is worse than not doing replacements at all. The lead water lateral is “the line that runs laterally from the water main to a house,” the report explained.

“Partial water line replacement is not a solution. It increases the danger,” she said. “When they leave the lead line between the curb and the home, the lead exposure actually increases.”

She called the city’s lead-contamination problem a “public health crisis,” and called for aggressive action. She said Pittsburgh should ban partial replacement of lead water laterals, just as Milwaukee, WI, and Madison, WI, have.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) “has done partial lead water line replacements at 275 residences scattered throughout most city neighborhoods since January 2016, Ms. Wagner said, and has plans to do an additional 1,500 over the coming months,” the report said.

“Because water tests last year found lead levels in some residences had climbed unacceptably high, federal and state environmental agencies required the PWSA to each year replace 7 percent of the estimated 25,000 lead service lines in its system that extend from water mains to the curb or private property line,” the report explained.

PWSA noted that state law prohibits replacing privately owned sections of lead service lines. Wagner says the law was not meant to block action in a time of crisis, the report said.

“The PWSA backs state legislation that would allow full replacement of the service laterals,” the report said.

Here’s how Milwaukee explains its lead water lateral replacement policy: “Instead of repair or partial replacement, the city requires the replacement of the entire lead service line from the city owned section from cast iron water main to the curbstop at the property line and the privately-owned section from the curbstop to water meter in the building.”

In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett signed an ordinance planning the replacement of nearly 70,000 residential lead pipes, according to Chicago Tonight. “Although parts of the plan have been criticized, local advocates think it can serve as a model for kickstarting” massive projects like this in other cities.

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