City officials and Peoples Natural Gas are taking decisive action to protect residents from lead-contaminated water. Their million-dollar plan to give free faucet filters to all city households, and to have filters installed at city schools and community centers, represents good leadership and respect for basic human needs. This is how a progressive city marshals resources to meet a public-health challenge.
Pittsburgh is an old city with aging infrastructure and housing stock. That means there’s lead in many of the service lines that carry water from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s mains to individual homes. The PWSA is responsible for the section of service line from the main to the property boundary; the property owner is responsible for the rest.
In all, about 16,200 of the agency’s 81,000 residential service lines are believed to contain lead. The PWSA is under a state mandate to find those lines and replace its portion of each one, but that will take years. Even when that work is completed, there is the risk of lead exposure from the property owner’s portion of the line, unless he or she has that section replaced. PWSA is offering to coordinate its work with the property owners, but the latter have no obligation to do the work at all.
Last week, city Councilwoman Deb Gross suggested a stopgap measure — giving lead-filtering water pitchers to about 25,000 families with young children, who are especially susceptible to lead-related health problems. Mayor Bill Peduto and Peoples responded with the better idea of giving faucet filters to all households served by PWSA and to put filters on pipes serving schools and other community buildings. Peoples will provide $500,000, with the city and PWSA each kicking in $250,000. (The city also is offering the filters to residents in southern Pittsburgh neighborhoods served by Pennsylvania American Water Co., which has not had problems with lead.)
The filters will be provided first to low-income residents, homes where testing has shown lead problems and households in neighborhoods where PWSA is in the process of replacing its portion of lead service lines. There’s also a second prong to the program. The Urban Redevelopment Authority will provide low-interest loans to help low-income property owners replace the service line sections for which they are responsible. This could mean the difference between the work getting done or sections of lead pipe remaining in place for years or decades more.
Ms. Gross deserves thanks for getting this conversation started, while Mr. Peduto’s administration had the foresight to take it to the next level. Peoples’ contribution is in keeping with the long record of giving by city foundations and businesses. If officials in Flint, Mich., had taken such steps, they might have avoided a public health emergency and national ridicule for allowing lead contamination of their water supply.