Pitt researchers receive $175K grant for Pittsburgh water study
University of Pittsburgh researchers will study the environmental impact of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s use of a chemical to reduce lead levels in city drinking water.
The National Science Foundation awarded professors Sarah Haig and Emily Elliott a $175,000 grant to study the environmental effect of orthophosphate, which coats the inside of pipes and prevents lead from leaching into water.
The study is expected to take one year.
Phosphates, also used in fertilizers, can cause excessive plant growth in lakes, rivers and streams and deprive aquatic life of life-essential oxygen, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Haig said in a statement that the project will look at how leaks in the city’s infrastructure could impact area ecosystems.
“Not only will this project reveal the treatment’s immediate effects on Pittsburgh’s ecosystems, but it will also provide insights that will benefit other cities implementing this treatment,” Haig said in a statement.
PWSA spokesman Will Pickering said the authority is partnering with Pitt on the study.
PWSA earlier this week began adding the EPA-approved orthophosphate to drinking water as part of its efforts to address high lead levels in its system. Pittsburgh water since 2016 has exceeded a federal lead threshold of 15 parts per billion. The most recent testing indicated levels of 20 ppb.
The authority also plans to replace all lead water pipes in its system, which includes about 300,000 residents of the city and surrounding communities.
Haig is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Elliott is an associate professor of geology and environmental science.
They will evaluate samples provided by PWSA to assess and monitor changes in ecology, water chemistry and nutrient availability in water collected from pipes and streams connected to the system.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .