Peduto fires back after Wagner calls on city to replace city's lead service lines
March 28, 2017 1:02 PM
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner held a news conference Tuesday to call on Mayor Bill Peduto to prioritize the replacement of the city's lead service lines.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner wants Mayor Bill Peduto to prioritize replacing the city's lead service lines to prevent lead from leaching into resident's drinking water.
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said Mayor William Peduto is gambling with the public’s health by not quickly and completely replacing about 20,000 public and private lead water service lines in the city.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, she also called on the mayor to commit funding from a variety of sources — including some of the $9 million a year the county redevelopment authority gets from casino operations — to pay for replacing all lead lines in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority service area.
Ms. Wagner said full line replacement would cost about $25 million, reflecting significant savings due to economies of scale and elimination of duplicated excavation work, and is also preferable from a public health perspective to partial line replacement, which studies show can increase lead contamination levels.
“There are perils in how the city is approaching lead line replacement, and I’m calling on the mayor to change course,” Ms. Wagner said, citing delays in putting into place a free home-filter program, identifying where lead service lines exist and where the authority has done partial line-replacement work.
She said that according to PWSA records, the water authority recently replaced 58 lead lines in Lawrenceville but only one property owner chose to pay for and replace his privately owned section of the lead line. Property owners must pay to repair or replace service lines on their property, a bill that could be several thousand dollars.
“People are not aware that one in four homes may have lead in their water. They don’t know if they have lead service lines and they don’t know where the PWSA is replacing their portion of the service lines,” Ms. Wagner said. “It’s like Russian roulette and an absolute crisis.”
An estimated 25 percent of the PWSA’s 83,000 residential customers in the city get their water through lead pipes, which can corrode and cause health problems for pregnant women, infants and young children. High lead levels in the water supply of Flint, Mich., in early 2015 have heightened public concern about lead in water supplies.
Ms. Wagner said the mayor and the PWSA have been “slow-walking” solutions to the PWSA water quality “crisis” that has seen lead levels in the aging system climb above federal standard of 15 parts per billion in some homes.
Ms. Wagner applauded the mayor’s announcement earlier this month of a $1 million safe water plan and a free lead-filter program for residents, but said it’s a “Band-Aid” approach that isn’t occurring quickly enough.
But Tim McNulty, the mayor’s spokesman, said a meeting Monday in the mayor’s office with PWSA officials and board members resulted in the targeting of filters for residences in neighborhoods where PWSA is replacing lines. Strategies for distributing the filters will be announce soon, he said.
And Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto’s chief of staff, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that a full evaluation of all PWSA’s operations is ongoing, including the lead service line issues and the authority’s $1 billion debt.
To that end, Mr. Acklin said a “blue-ribbon panel of water experts” will on Friday interview potential members of an advisory team to oversee a possible restructuring of the PWSA. He said Ms. Wagner is “taking cheap political shots at those actually working to address the authority’s issues.”
Mr. Acklin said the city is barred by the state Municipal Services Act from replacing privately owned sections of the PWSA lead service lines, a legal obstacle Ms. Wagner said could be overcome.
She said full service line replacement programs in York, Philadelphia, and East Lansing, Mich., have created economies of scale that have driven water line replacement costs to as low as $1,200 per service line. Mr. McNulty pointed out that York’s water system is much smaller and privately owned, and Philadelphia is governed by different regulations that allow full replacement.
Mr. Acklin said the mayor agrees with Ms. Wagner on one point: He does not support privatization of the city’s water and sewer system.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey
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