Controversial lead line replacements begin in Pittsburgh as lawmakers seek better system

| Monday, May 15, 2017, 11:18 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
A PWSA crew works on replacing a frozen line on Bismark Street Thursday, March 12, 2015.

While state lawmakers work to allow water systems to fully replace lead lines, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is embarking on week two of a controversial partial lead line replacement program.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Pittsburgh, Monday introduced a bill that would allow the water systems like PWSA to replace the full line -- a measure PWSA supports, said Will Pickering, the authority's spokesman.

Current state law prohibits the authority from using its funds to replace the privately-owned portions of the lines, which typically extend from the curb to the house, Pickering said.

In the meantime, PWSA is performing about 60 partial lead line replacements per week, starting first with those in Mt. Washington and those that showed high lead levels in samples submitted by customers, Pickering said.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner Monday asked PWSA to halt all partial lead line replacements, and instead perform full line replacements.

In some cases, partial lead line replacements can cause more lead to leech into the water, said Peter Grevatt, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's office of groundwater and drinking water.

"We do have a strong preference, as does the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for full lead service line replacements," Grevatt told the Trib. "When a line is disturbed, it's possible to introduce lead particles in to the water."

Wagner also cited similar statements by EPA Chemist Michael Schock and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University during a Monday news conference.

PWSA is under an EPA mandate to replace 7 percent of all lead lines until the authority's samples test below the federal threshold for two consecutive times. The authority has been exceeding the threshold since July; the next test results are due out next month.

Prior to last week, PWSA was only replacing lead lines when they needed to be repaired or at customer request.

PWSA has replaced about 275 lead lines from Jan. 1, 2016 through April 30, according to data PWSA provided Wagner's office in a Right to Know request.

Pickering said those replacements were mostly for line repairs, with some customer requests for replacement due to lead.

Wagner said the partial lead line replacement for her Point Breeze home did not fall under either of those categories.

The EPA requires water systems that partially replace lead lines, including PWSA, to give property owners 45 days' notice and re-test the water within 72 hours.

Pickering said PWSA is complying with those requirements, and also giving all residents who live in the properties with a pitcher and six replacement filters.

PWSA is also working with the state's Department of Environmental Protection to develop a formal consent order regarding lead in water that would create additional oversight, Pickering said.

From April 8 to May 8, three PWSA contractors will be partially replacing lead lines for homes on the following streets:

• 400 block of Estella Avenue

• 400 block of Cicero Way

• 400 block of Edgemont Street

• 100 block of Kingsboro Street

• 100 block of Craighead Street

• First block of Ruth Street (street addresses below 100)

• Tuscola Street

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift.

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