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 continues to be effective in reducing lead levels.
PWSA received one hundred sixty eight (168) samples during this most recent sampling period from July 1, 2019 to December 31, 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 10.0 ppb, which is below 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 results from the last round of testing released in June of 2019 were 17.52 ppb, which is above the action level.
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 January 1 to June 30, 2020. 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.
In 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. PWSA's water quality team has completed extensive monitoring throughout the water distribution system to track orthophosphate's effectiveness and ensure consistent water quality during this treatment upgrade. This stringent monitoring program meets and exceeds state and federal requirements.
“We are pleased to see lower lead levels in our drinking water samples during this round of testing," said PWSA Executive Director Robert A. Weimar. "We are encouraged by the results but our work is not done. We must continue with our stringent monitoring program to ensure that orthophosphate is working effectively in every corner of our service area," he said.
“These latest lower lead testing results signals that PWSA is passing another major milestone as we work to regain the public’s trust," said PWSA Board Chair Paul Leger. "The Board will remain focused on ensuring we deliver high quality and safe water to our customers now and into the future,” he said.
December Compliance Test Result Details
Ninety six percent (96%) of the 168 samples analyzed in this most recent testing round were below the EPA’s 15 ppb lead action level, an eight percent increase from the June 2019 testing round.
- 116 had a lead concentration of less than 5.0 ppb
- 34 were between 5.0 and 9.9 ppb
- 12 were between 10.0 and 14.9 ppb
- 4 were between 15.0 and 19.9 ppb
- 1 was between 20 and 49.9 ppb
- 1 was higher than 50 ppb
*PWSA staff follows 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 10 ppb.
Lead Line Replacement Continues
While orthophosphate works throughout the distribution system to reduce lead levels, our Community Lead Response continues to replace lead lines free of charge. To date, over 6,000 lead lines have been replaced and thousands of free lead test kits and filters have been distributed. 2019 was one of the Authority's most productive years yet, with over 3,000 lead service lines removed. In addition to lead lines replaced, 17,000 homes were inspected for lead service lines, 27,000 calls were fielded by the Lead Help Desk, and the team attended 39 community meetings to discuss the replacement program with residents being impacted by our work.
Lead line replacement will continue in 2020, with a goal of another 3,000 lines to be replaced. PWSA will continue to educate the public on our program and provide free testing kits to residents to help them understand the water quality in their home. For more information on the Community Lead Response, visit lead.pgh2o.com.
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 at lead.pgh2o.com. Additional information on lead in water, including health risks and protective measures, is available at: