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Pittsburgh unveils $1M plan to address lead in drinking water

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 1:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh is placing a large “Band-aid” on the city's lead-contaminated drinking water problem with a $1 million plan to supply every home, school and public building with filters, the mayor said Wednesday.

People's Gas is kicking in $500,000 and the city and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority are supplying $250,000 apiece to pay for the filters, which will be distributed in coming weeks. Mayor Bill Peduto said distribution details have yet to be worked out.

“Forty-eight hours ago, the president of People's Gas, Morgan O'Brien, made a phone call to our chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, saying we want to be able to help to get people water filters,” Peduto said. “We were able to round up a quarter-million (dollars) out of the city's budget and a quarter-million out of PWSA's budget. This will supply all water customers in the city with filters.”

Peduto called the filters a stopgap in solving a widespread problem of lead waterlines. Officials believe at least 20,000 homes have lead water lines that must be replaced.

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority board of directors on Thursday is expected to vote on a program that will offer 10-year loans of up to $10,000 at a rate of 3 percent to help low-income residents replace water lines. Peduto said the city is seeking a change in state law that would permit PWSA to replace lines for homeowners.

“This is a Band-aid on a solution that's going to be over a decade in solving,” Peduto said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to solve it over the next decade or more, but in the meantime we want to be sure that children and parents and grandparents all have safe drinking water.”

People's spokesman Barry Kukovich said the company contributed because the cause fits its criteria for making charitable donations to economic development and human health initiatives.

“All of these people are our customers,” he said. “Nobody wants a Flint, Mich., here.”

Flint's water supply in 2014 was found to be contaminated with lead.

City Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park, who serves on the PWSA board, announced a fundraising campaign late last month to raise money for water filters. Gross said she was unsure whether publicity from her campaign prompted People's to act.

“I don't know how the conversation started,” she said. “They didn't reach out to me, but I'm really grateful for this commitment.”

PWSA announced in July that lead in the drinking water exceeded an EPA standard of 15 parts per billion. In January, the authority reported lead levels had decreased from 22 parts per billion to 18 parts per billion.

Residents will receive point-of-use filters, which attach to a tap. Schools and public buildings will be equipped with filters that attach to a main water pipe and filter water as it enters a building.

Peduto said residents with lead levels at 10 parts per billion or higher and low-income residents would have first preference in receiving the filters.

PWSA, separately, is addressing the problem by identifying and replacing lead service lines running from water mains to homeowners' property lines, studying possible sources of lead infiltration and identifying water treatment chemicals that can reduce corrosion from lead pipes.

PWSA has awarded $4 million in contracts to replace 1,000 to 1,500 lead lines by early July.

Property owners are responsible for the line to their house, business or other structure.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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