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Pittsburgh Water Exceeds Federal Lead Threshold—Again


The presence of lead in Pittsburgh water lines is an ongoing problem, with the latest water samples reported by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) demonstrating the city’s water is once again in noncompliance with the federally-mandated threshold of 15 parts of lead per billion.

An Ongoing Problem

The report, released on 22 January 2018, shows 18 of the 114 homes tested by the PWSA had lead levels at or above 15 parts per billion. The PWSA must report the 90th percentile of test results to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, raising the result to 21 parts per billion.

Lead tests for sites served by the PWSA have exceeded the federal threshold every year since the summer of 2016, but the new results—from July to December of 2017, mark the first time the level has increased:

  • Winter, 2017: 21 parts per billion
  • Summer, 2017: 15 parts per billion
  • Winter 2016: 18 parts per billion
  • Summer 2016: 22 parts per billion.

Why the increase? PWSA Interim Executive Director Robert Weimar notes since the July 2017 results, 22 sites without lead pipes or solder were removed from the compliance program. The presence of these sites would have skewed the results downward—a not encouraging thought.

As for the increase, Weimar is quoted as saying “I don’t think a few parts per billion are big differences.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control would disagree, as they consider lead unsafe at any level, especially for young children and pregnant women.

What’s Being Done?

Under federal law, a water supplier must replace at least seven percent of lead lines a year if lead testing is at or exceeds 15 parts per billion. In the case of the PWSA, this would mean replacing approximately 1340 of its total 17,750 lead lines a year.

Between July 2016 and June 2017, the PWSA only replaced 415 lines. As of January, 2018 date, only 725 lead lines have been replaced. This failure, in part, prompted a $2.4 million Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Penalty.

Weimar hopes to add orthophosphate to Pittsburgh drinking water to combat lead levels. The compound prevents lead particles from leaching into drinking water and could reduce lead levels to 5 parts per billion—an improvement, if not an ideal solution. Using orthophosphate requires DEP approval, however, and to date this approval has not been given.

Protection Yourself, Protect Your Family

Pittsburgh’s lead problems are a grim reminder the nation’s public water infrastructure is slowly disintegrating. Lead pipes have a lifespan of approximately a hundred years, and many were laid in the 1900s or earlier. Reports of public water exceeding lead thresholds are becoming commonplace across America, and as Pittsburgh makes clear, reported levels of lead can be misrepresented by sampling the wrong houses.

To keep you and your family safe, we recommend a filter capable of reducinglead as well as other organic and inorganic contaminants. Both our EZConnect compact water filters and NSF-Certified Six-Stage Reverse Osmosis filtration systems reduce lead, chlorine, and fluoride from drinking water.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter