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PWSA to prioritize homes where children live for lead line replacements

Theresa Clift
| Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, 4:12 p.m.
Mark McClafferty with Frank J. Zottola Construction, attempts to remove a section of pipe at the home of George Wanner, 58, of Perry North (shown top right) Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Frank J. Zottola Construction, Inc. was work contracted by PWSA dig up service lines of homes to see whether they are made of lead.
Mark McClafferty with Frank J. Zottola Construction, attempts to remove a section of pipe at the home of George Wanner, 58, of Perry North (shown top right) Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. Frank J. Zottola Construction, Inc. was work contracted by PWSA dig up service lines of homes to see whether they are made of lead.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will start using Allegheny County Health Department data to prioritize lead line replacements at homes where children and pregnant women live.

The change follows a Trib story in August that revealed the authority was not prioritizing the homes of residents most vulnerable to lead poisoning — a step several Midwest cities have taken because of lead contamination in drinking water.

“We did talk to them about how they could potentially prioritize children in areas where we know there are great concerns,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is requiring PWSA to replace 1,341 lead lines a year. The authority has been exceeding a federal lead threshold since summer 2016.

“I think they are under very strict requirements at this point in time, so they have to balance that in addition to how to do it in such a way that would prioritize the communities that we're most concerned about,” Hacker said. “We don't know where the pregnant women are, that's a little more difficult, but we can tell them which areas of their service area have the highest percentage of new births and which areas of their service area historically have the highest levels of blood tests.”

Health department officials have been meeting with PWSA officials every two weeks to share information and started providing the data on new births over the winter, said Will Pickering, a PWSA spokesman.

The change will take effect in the spring when the lead line replacements resume.

The department cannot provide specific addresses of the new births to PWSA because of privacy laws, Hacker said, but is instead providing something akin to Census tracts, which are more detailed than ZIP codes.

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

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