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. Samples were collected through June 2017 and the 90th percentile value was calculated at 15 parts per billion (ppb). Previous compliance testing results were 18 ppb in December 2016 and 22 ppb in June 2016. The 15 ppb value meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level for lead and is not an exceedance.
The action level is the concentration of a contaminant which, if exceeded, triggers treatment or other requirements which a water system must follow. Because lead may pose serious health risks, the EPA set a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero for lead. The MCLG is the level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. 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.
Samples were taken by customers at 128 residential sites based on a method prescribed under Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA guidelines. 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 calculated by DEP. Seventy seven percent of the samples collected were below 10 ppb. The details of the June 2017 compliance testing results are as follows:
- 45 are non-detect for lead
- 25 are between 2.1 and 5 ppb
- 30 are between 5.1 and 10 ppb
- 16 are between 10.1 and 15 ppb
- 12 are above 15 ppb
The 90th percentile is not an average of all samples, but rather a calculation to determine if 10 percent of the sites that were sampled exceeded the action level of 15 ppb for lead. A result of 15 ppb meets the lead action level and is not considered to be an exceedance. PWSA must repeat compliance testing every six months until the 90th percentile level is 15 ppb or below for two consecutive rounds of testing.
Lead can be found in old service lines that run from water mains to homes. These service lines are currently a joint responsibility; PWSA owns the portion of the line in public space, and homeowners own the portion on private space that connects to their home. Lead can also be found in older household plumbing. PWSA is currently mandated by DEP and EPA to replace seven percent of publicly-owned lead service lines per year. 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. The Authority continues to remove lead service lines, but only for emergency repairs and when the work results in a full service line replacement. PWSA is negotiating with DEP to determine the future of the lead line replacement program to meet regulatory requirements and protect public health.
Despite not exceeding action level in this most recent round of testing, PWSA will continue to work with DEP to improve its water treatment process as soon as possible to reduce corrosion from lead pipes and plumbing. It is widely recognized by water quality experts that optimizing corrosion control treatment is a cost-effective solution that can reduce lead levels across PWSA’s drinking water distribution system in the near-term. Cities similar to Pittsburgh with lead drinking water infrastructure are using these treatment methods with marked success.
“While the downward trend is encouraging, we are not satisfied. PWSA must protect public health by doing everything in its power to provide the highest quality water possible, and to replace lead service lines responsibly. We look forward to gaining prompt approval from DEP to implement best practice water treatment upgrades that will significantly reduce current levels of lead found in some homes,” 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 19,000 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. 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.
- Test your water for lead. E-mail at email@example.com or call us at 412.255.2423 to request a free lead test kit.
- Get your child’s blood tested. Contact your local health department or healthcare provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead if you are concerned about exposure.
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:
· 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
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is the largest combined water and sewer authority in Pennsylvania, serving 300,000 consumers throughout the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Our 250 employees are city residents and are committed to delivering high quality water.