Lead water tests, filters not limited to PWSA customers
April 5, 2017 3:08 PM
All Pittsburgh residents are eligible for free lead water testing and filters.
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The city’s free lead water testing and filter programs will now extend to all city residents, whether they get their water from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority or other suppliers.
Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement Wednesday that he is inviting Pennsylvania American Water Co., which serves 27,000 households in the southern and western city neighborhoods, and other public water suppliers, to join the PWSA in addressing the city’s lead water issues.
“The city is committed to ensuring clean and safe drinking water to all our residents, regardless of who owns and operates their system,” he said. “This includes not only PWSA customers, but residents of Pittsburgh who receive water from Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water, West View Water Authority, and Pennsylvania American Water.”
The PWSA has seen its lead water concentrations for some customers with lead service lines climb above the 15 parts per billion federal standard, causing the state to order the replacement of up to 1,500 city-owned lead connector lines, located between water mains and household service lines, by July 1. The other water providers supplying city residents have not registered high lead water concentrations and, unlike PWSA, are not required to take measures to reduce lead levels.
City Council members Theresa Kail-Smith and Natalia Rudiak were pleased by the mayor’s announcement.
“I think there was confusion about the filter program and whether Penn American customers would be eligible to receive the filters, too,” Ms. Rudiak said. “We’ve been able now to confirm that they will.”
Sam Ashbaugh, the city’s chief financial officer, speaking at a City Council standing committee meeting Wednesday morning, encouraged Pennsylvania American to establish a free lead water testing program similar to that offered by PWSA.
Gary Lobaugh, a spokesman for Pennsylvania American, was noncommittal. He said the commercial water provider is “reviewing the mayor’s comments and will be reaching out to his office and other city officials to further discuss the plans they put forth.”
The water filters are a temporary fix aimed at protecting residents while lead is removed from the PWSA system. According to the mayor’s release, the city will be receiving bids this week to select a company to provide pitcher-style water filters, and has “finalized a distribution strategy that maximizes the delivery of filters to residents.”
Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff, said priorities for water filter distribution include households with pregnant women and young children, who are especially vulnerable to lead exposure, and areas of the city where the PWSA will be working in coming months to replace the city-owned section of lead water service lines. The authority is precluded by state law from replacing the section of the service line owned by the property owner, but is working with state legislators to eliminate that restriction.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she has filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, seeking the release of records showing where PWSA has performed and plans to perform hundreds of the partial lead service line replacements that she has labeled “dangerous” because they can loosen lead corrosion in the service lines and increase lead water levels in those households.
She said the PWSA was unresponsive last week to her state Open Records Law request for those records.
“While I continue to call on Mayor Peduto to cease the very dangerous partial line replacement approach that can double lead levels in household water, at an absolute minimum he must ensure that residents know where the hundreds of partial line replacements have already been conducted and where the planned replacements are located for the next four months,” Ms. Wagner said in a release. “Without such transparency regarding line replacement locations, residents will continue to be kept in the dark regarding their increased exposure to lead.”
Will Pickering, a PWSA spokesman, said the authority is committed to “full transparency within the law,” is in the process of mapping lead service line locations and providing notification to nearby residents when lead connector line replacement work is done. Notification includes door hanger notices, notification letters and line flushing instructions.
“The data associated with our lead program will be made fully available to the public, in an open and transparent manner,” he said in an email statement. “We remain fully committed to do the hard work of identifying and removing lead from our system, once and for all.”
Mr. Pickering said PWSA has replaced 165 publicly owned lead connector lines since July 2016 and 67 more as part of water main replacement projects. Authority contractors are expected to replace another 400 lead connector lines by the end of June.
Ms. Rudiak said the PWSA needs to be more aggressive in mapping where the lead service lines are located.
“We asked PWSA and it has one staff member sifting through paper documents to find the lead lines,” Ms. Rudiak said. “Right now, we’re just shooting in the dark here because we don’t have the data required to make the needed systematic changes.”
She has suggested that the city and PWSA look into getting foundation funding to help with the one-time project of identifying and digitizing the lead service line locations.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey
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