Pittsburgh, PA – The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) released the results from its most recent compliance testing for lead required by state and federal regulations today. One hundred eighteen (118) samples were collected from homes that were determined to have, or are expected to have, lead service lines or plumbing. The results are then calculated to determine whether 10 percent of the total samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).
The 90th percentile results from the latest round of testing were 21 ppb, exceeding the action level of 15 ppb. Previous compliance testing results were 15 ppb in June 2017, 18 ppb in December 2016 and 22 ppb in June 2016. According to EPA, there is no safe level of lead. Residents should continue to consider the recommendations provided by PWSA to reduce exposure to lead if they know or suspect they have lead service lines or plumbing. A frequently asked questions document on lead in water can be found here.
Samples were taken by customers at 114 residential sites based on a method prescribed under DEP and EPA guidelines. Four samples were submitted twice from the same sites. All samples were taken from homes that have, or are expected to have, lead service lines or plumbing. Service lines are the connections from the home to the water main and are the primary source of lead entering tap water. Samples were sent by customers directly to an independent, accredited lab, and the results were reviewed and will be calculated by DEP. Seventy four percent of the samples collected were below 10 ppb. The details of the December 2017 compliance testing results, as well as a comparison of previous testing rounds, are as follows:
December 2017 Lead and Copper Compliance Results
- 38 are non-detect for lead
- 23 are between 2.1 and 4.9 ppb (parts per billion)
- 27 are between 5 and 9.9 ppb
- 12 are between 10 and 14 ppb
- 4 are between 15 and 19 ppb
- 11 are between 20 and 49 ppb
- 3 are higher than 50 ppb
Comparison of Previous Lead and Copper Rule Results
|2.1 to 4.9 ppb
|5.0 to 9.9 ppb
|10 to 14.9 ppb
|15.0 to 19.9 ppb
|20 to 49.9 ppb
|50 ppb and higher
|total samples taken
* Detected levels of lead have increased in PWSA’s service area since the early 2000s
PWSA Lead Compliance Test Results 2001 – 2018
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 action level of 15 ppb for lead. PWSA must repeat compliance testing every six months until the 90th percentile level is 15 ppb or below for two consecutive rounds of testing.
PWSA’ Lead Abatement Program is focused on reducing lead exposure to all customers. While we locate the lead service lines and replace them as quickly as possible, PWSA has assessed alternative corrosion control treatment methods. PWSA, under DEP oversight, has assessed the performance of two alternative treatment methods. On January 2, 2018, PWSA submitted to DEP preliminary findings of a study recommending the use of orthophosphate to minimize lead corrosion. PWSA has requested DEP review and approve the addition of orthophosphate and approve the construction of the facilities necessary to add it to the water treatment system as soon as possible. PWSA expects that the addition of orthophosphate will rapidly reduce lead levels for all homes that have lead service lines or household plumbing. Cities similar to Pittsburgh with lead drinking water infrastructure are using these treatment methods with marked success.
In May 2017, PWSA halted partial lead service line replacements after post-construction lead testing showed that the practice increased levels of lead in some homes. Recent legislative amendments now allow PWSA to replace private lead service lines, making potentially harmful partial replacements unnecessary. As part of a consent order and agreement with DEP, PWSA has committed to replace over 2,000 full lead service lines at no cost to customers over the next year. This $44 million ratepayer-funded project will target replacements in neighborhoods shown to have the presence of young children, who are most at-risk for lead exposure.
“Until we receive regulatory approval of treatment improvements, we expect that the lead levels found in high-risk homes will remain consistent. 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,” said PWSA’s Interim Executive Director Robert A. Weimar.
As the Authority identifies the location of lead service lines, it is notifying residents directly and making the information available to the public on a searchable online map here. In addition, PWSA continues to offer free lead test kits to residents of the City of Pittsburgh and Millvale. Since June 2016, PWSA has provided over 20,000 test kits to help inform residents about the quality of water in their homes.
Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Although most lead exposure occurs from ingesting lead paint, dust, or lead contaminated soil, EPA estimates that 10 to 20 percent may come from drinking water. If residents know or suspect they have lead service lines or plumbing, they are encouraged to reduce exposure in drinking water by using the following recommendations:
- 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. PWSA will coordinate with residents to replace its portion of lead service line and funding for low-income households will be available. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is offering low-interest loans for eligible property owners who replace their private lead service lines. Call 412.255.6677 for more information. For more information on lead service line replacement, contact the PWSA Help Desk at 412-255-8987 or via email at LeadHelp@pgh2o.com
- Test your water for lead. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 412.255.2423 to request a free lead test kit.
- 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 at www.pgh2o.com/lead-facts. Additional information on lead in water, including health risks and protective measures, is available at: