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Allegheny

Pittsburgh water continues to exceed federal lead threshold

| Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 11:21 a.m.
Mark Merenick with Frank J. Zottola Construction, removes a section of pipe at the home of George Wanner, 58, of Perry North, 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. If the private side is not made of lead, and the PWSA side is, PWSA plans on replacing the lead line.
Mark Merenick with Frank J. Zottola Construction, removes a section of pipe at the home of George Wanner, 58, of Perry North, 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. If the private side is not made of lead, and the PWSA side is, PWSA plans on replacing the lead line.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority remains in noncompliance with a federal lead threshold, according to results of the latest round of sampling released Monday.

Eighteen of the 114 PWSA-served homes tested between July 1 and Dec. 31 showed levels at or above 15 parts per billion — the federal threshold for lead, according to an authority news release.

That brings PWSA's latest 90th percentile result — the number reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to 21 parts per billion.

EPA requires PWSA to submit a minimum of 100 samples from homes that have lead lines. It sends test kits to roughly the same 200 homes each time.

The authority has been exceeding the federal threshold since summer 2016.

The latest round of testing marks the first time since then that the level has gone up and not down — the 21 parts per billion figure released Monday was higher than the 15 parts per billion number reported in July. Levels were 18 parts per billion in winter 2016 and 22 parts per billion in summer 2016.

In order to be considered no longer exceeding the lead level, the authority would have to test at or below 15 parts per billion twice in a row. Testing is done every six months.

Water providers that exceed the federal threshold are required to replace at least 7 percent of its lead lines each year.

That means PWSA is required to replace at least 1,341 lead lines a year, as it estimates it has about 17,750 lead lines total.

In its first year, from July 2016 through June 30 2017, PWSA only replaced 415 lead lines.

That, among other issues, led to a $2.4 million Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection penalty.

As of today, PWSA has replaced about 725 lead lines since July 2016, said Will Pickering, PWSA spokesman.

Although the latest results seem like bad news for the authority, a difference between 15 and 21 isn't significant enough to really mean much, PWSA Interim Executive Director Robert Weimar has said.

“I don't think a few parts per billion are big differences,” Weimar told the Trib in September .

Weimar wants to get the level at zero or very close to it, by adding orthophosphate to the water.

The chemical, which would need DEP approval for PWSA use, can reduce the amount of lead particles that can leach into drinking water from lead pipes.

The authority on Jan. 2 submitted to DEP preliminary findings of a study on orthophosphate, the release said.

DEP has not yet granted approval for PWSA to add orthophosphate or construct the facilities necessary to do so.

PWSA officials are meeting with DEP this week to discuss the orthophosphate approval, among other matters, Pickering said.

“Until we receive regulatory approval of treatment improvements, we expect that the lead levels found in high-risk homes will remain consistent,” Weimar said in the release. “PWSA is doing everything possible to apply treatment improvements that have been shown to reduce levels of lead in other cities. In addition, our $44 million comprehensive lead service line replacement program for 2018 will replace over 2,000 lead service lines, and includes funding to replace privately-owned lines. I am confident that our replacement program will serve as a national model for other cities struggling to remove aging lead infrastructure.”

Lead is unsafe at any level, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The neurotoxin can slow brain development and is most dangerous to children younger than 6 and pregnant women.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is urging PWSA to adopt a plan to remove all lead lines and for Mayor Bill Peduto to reinstate a city program to distribute free lead-filtering pitchers.

“We cannot justifiably hold ourselves out to the world as a smart city when we cannot even begin to address the primary public health issue impacting our residents,” Wagner said earlier this month.

As PWSA locates its lead lines, it updates this online map .

To request a free sample kit, email servicelines@pgh20.com or call 412-255-2423.

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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