PWSA Releases June 2019 Lead Compliance Test Results

Mora McLaughlinMedia Release, News

Results show progress using orthophosphate corrosion control treatment

Pittsburgh, PA – The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) released results from its most recent compliance testing for lead required by state and federal regulations today. Samples were collected by customers from worst case scenario homes that were verified to have lead service lines or plumbing. Homes where lead lines have been replaced are not included in the sampling pool. Testing results indicate that PWSA’s addition of orthophosphate in April 2019 has been effective at reducing lead levels.

Sampling results show that lead levels generally decreased as orthophosphate continued to take effect in the water distribution system.

PWSA received one hundred and seventy-six (176) samples taken during this most recent sampling period from January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019. The results were analyzed by a third-party laboratory and calculated to determine whether 10 percent of the total samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The 90th percentile results from the latest round of testing were 17.52 ppb, which is above the action level. According to EPA, there is no safe level of lead. Residents who believe they have a lead service line or lead plumbing should continue to consider the recommendations at the bottom of this release to reduce exposure to lead.

The 90th percentile is not an average of the presence of lead across PWSA’s water system, but rather a calculation to determine if 10 percent of the worst-case-scenario sites that were sampled exceeded the lead action level. PWSA will conduct another round of compliance testing with samples collected during the sampling period from July 1 to December 31, 2019. Hundreds of water quality tests are taken every month from points throughout the water distribution system to ensure the water is meeting all state and federal regulatory standards. PWSA’s dedicated team of water quality experts closely monitor the system every day to ensure safe and reliable service.

Orthophosphate Continues to Reduce Lead Levels

Since April 2019, PWSA began adding orthophosphate to reduce lead levels in drinking water while continuing to replace thousands of lead service lines. Orthophosphate is a food-grade additive that forms a protective layer inside of lead service lines, creating a barrier between the lead pipes and the water flowing through them. It is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and used in water systems across the world.

This upgraded water treatment method can take up to six months to reach its full effect. In addition to these compliance test results, data collected by PWSA has shown lead levels are trending downward since orthophosphate was added in April.

“We are encouraged by this round of sampling. This compliance data and our system-wide testing have demonstrated that the longer orthophosphate is present in our water system, the more effective it is at reducing lead levels,” said Executive Director Robert A. Weimar. “As orthophosphate continues to do its job, we anticipate lead levels to be reduced to single digit or non-detectable levels at most homes with lead service lines or plumbing.”

“We now have every reason to believe our treatment upgrades are working as planned. Orthophosphate is helping reduce the risk of lead in water until we’re able to replace all of the remaining lead lines in our system,” said PWSA Board Chair Paul Leger.

July 2019 Compliance Test Result Details

Eighty eight percent (88%) of the 176 samples analyzed in this most recent testing round were below the EPA’s 15 ppb lead action level. The details of the July 2019 compliance testing results are as follows:

  • 113 had a lead concentration of less than 5.0 ppb
  • 29 were between 5.0 and 9.9 ppb
  • 14 were between 10.0 and 14.9 ppb
  • 6 were between 15.0 and 19.9 ppb
  • 8 were between 20 and 49.9 ppb
  • 6 were higher than 50 ppb*

*PWSA staff follow up with each homeowner that receives results higher than 50 ppb to help determine potential causes for elevated lead levels. Free water filters are provided to any home with results over 15 ppb.
Lead Line Replacement Continues

PWSA’s Community Lead Response is focused on reducing lead exposure to all customers. As part of a consent order and agreement with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), PWSA has replaced over 4,200 lead service lines since July 2016. To reduce the health risks of partial lead line replacements, PWSA is offering no-cost private lead line replacements at homes across the city when replacing the public lead service line. The Authority is planning to replace 4,400 public lead service lines through its current $49 million PennVEST funding package. Additional lead service line replacements are planned in the coming years. PWSA estimates approximately 15% of homes in its drinking water service area have lead service lines.

For homes not included in the ongoing neighborhood-based replacement program, PWSA is also offering no-cost private lead line replacements for households with an income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level ($61,500 annual income for a four-person household). Funds for this program are available from a settlement of an enforcement action between PWSA and DEP.

Tips for Reducing Exposure to Lead in Water

  • Run your water to flush out lead. If you haven’t used your water for several hours, run your cold tap for at least one minute before using for cooking or drinking. Homes with longer lead water service lines may require flushing for a longer period of time.
  • Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily in hot water. Do not drink, cook with, or make baby formula using hot water.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Look for alternative sources or treatment of water. Purchase a water filter that is certified by NSF to remove lead. Coupons for NSF-certified filters can be found here. Customers can also choose to drink bottled water.
  • Identify if your plumbing fixtures contain lead. There are commercially-available lead check swabs that can detect lead on plumbing surfaces such as solder and pipes. Consider having lead-containing pipes and fixtures replaced.
  • Contact PWSA if you decide to replace your lead service line. Depending on household income, customers may be eligible to have their lead water service line replaced at no cost.
  • Test your water for lead. Go to pgh2o.com/leadform or call us at 412.255.8987 to request a free lead test kit. If a test comes back with elevated lead levels, PWSA will send a lead filter free of cost.
  • Get your child’s blood tested. If you think your child may have been exposed to lead, talk to you doctor about testing your child. Allegheny County requires all children to be tested for lead exposure at approximately 9-12 months, and again at 24 months

Many American cities face similar challenges posed by old lead infrastructure. PWSA is committed to working with our community to identify solutions to reduce the risk of lead exposure. The Authority encourages customers to learn more about lead in water http://lead.pgh2o.com. Additional information on lead in water, including health risks and protective measures, is available at: