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 homes that were determined to have, or are expected to have, lead service lines or plumbing. The latest round of testing does not reflect PWSA’s progress replacing lead service lines. Homes where lead lines have been replaced are not included in the sampling pool.
PWSA received one hundred and sixty-one (161) samples taken from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018. 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 20 ppb, which is above the action level. 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.
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 repeat this testing every six months.
Eighty five percent (85%) of the samples analyzed in this most recent testing round were below the EPA lead action level. The details of the December 2018 compliance testing results are as follows:
- 73 have a lead concentration of less than 5.0 ppb
- 51 are between 5.0 and 9.9 ppb
- 13 are between 10.0 and 14.9 ppb
- 6 are between 15.0 and 19.9 ppb
- 15 are between 20 and 49.9 ppb
- 3 are higher than 50 ppb
Compliance testing results comparisons can be found on our Customer Water Quality Data page under “Lead and Copper Rule Compliance Testing”.
PWSA’s Community Lead Response is focused on reducing lead exposure to all customers. As part of a consent order and agreement with DEP, PWSA has replaced over 2,825 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’s 2019 replacement program is budgeted at $49 million and is expected to replace over 3,400 lead lines. PWSA estimates approximately 15% of homes in its drinking water service area have lead service lines.
For homes not included in the 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.
In addition to locating lead lines and replacing them as quickly as possible, PWSA will begin adding orthophosphate to the treated drinking water in early spring to reduce corrosion from lead pipes. A rigorous year-long study demonstrated that orthophosphate can reduce lead levels in PWSA’s drinking water. It has also been used successfully by numerous major cities to reduce corrosion from old lead service lines.
“We’ve seen that the 90th percentile results of compliance testing are variable. Our team is working diligently to reduce the risk of lead in water by applying orthophosphate and rapidly replacing the lead lines in our system,” said PWSA Executive Director Robert Weimar. “We recommend that customers take advantage of our free water test kits and visit our online lead map to help determine if they’re at risk for exposure to lead,” he continued.
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 at pgh2o.com/leadmap. In addition, PWSA continues to offer free lead test kits to its drinking water customers.
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. 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. 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 412.255.2423 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 https://lead.pgh2o.com. Additional information on lead in water, including health risks and protective measures, is available at:
- U.S. EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline – www.epa.gov/lead
- Centers for Disease Control – www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm
- Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) – www.achd.net/lead
- Pennsylvania DEP www.dep.pa.gov/lead