Pittsburgh, PA – The most recent round of testing completed by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) shows the 90th percentile result of 5 parts per billion (ppb), well below the state and federal action level of 15 ppb.
The 90th percentile result of 5 ppb is below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lead action level of 15 ppb. Samples were taken at 124 residential locations between July and December of 2022.
PWSA’s water came back into compliance in summer of 2020. From that moment forward, lead levels have remained well below the EPA action level of 15 ppb. Since the Community Lead Response’s inception in 2016, PWSA has replaced nearly 10,000 public lead service lines and over 6,800 private lead service lines at no direct cost to customers.
Orthophosphate as Corrosion Control
In April 2019, we 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 an anti-corrosive barrier between the lead pipes and the water flowing through them. It is approved by the EPA and successfully used in water systems across the world. Orthophosphate was selected by PWSA and approved by DEP after an extensive, year-long study of treatment alternatives.
Maintaining Water Quality with Routine Testing and Analysis
Since PWSA came back into full compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule in July of 2020, we have been working closely with national water quality experts to further optimize the water treatment process to maintain low lead levels. Maintaining water quality is a constant effort, requiring numerous samples and stringent analysis. Over 60 samples are taken from around the system every week, including lead monitoring stations, hydrants, and controlled testing points. Analysts look at lead levels, as well as orthophosphate and pH levels and other markers that influence overall water quality. PWSA plant and field operators, water quality experts, engineers, and data managers constantly review information collected in the field to ensure that PWSA’s drinking water meets all state and federal regulations, and our customers receive reliable, high-quality water.
PWSA’s Community Lead Response celebrated its sixth year in 2022, with a variety of targeted lead removal programs. In addition to water main replacement programs that focused on areas with a high concentration of lead service lines, we also launched the Priority Lead Line Replacement Program, a unique effort to replace lead lines at all daycare facilities and any homes that submitted a lead test kit with elevated results. Made possible by a $4.7 million funding package from the PENNVEST, the program included the following:
- Service line material investigations at 180 daycare facilities within PWSA’s water service area.
- 19 lead lines found and replaced at daycare facilities. All daycare facilities within PWSA’s service area are now free of lead lines.
- 306 replacements at homes with elevated lead test kit results.
We also continue replacing lead lines through the $17 million Neighborhood Lead Line Replacement Program, an effort funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, granted to PWSA through the City of Pittsburgh. Thus far, the project has completed work in Elliott, Crafton Heights, North and South Oakland, East Allegheny, the North Shore, Bloomfield, and East Liberty replacing any lead lines found within a given work area. Hundreds of lead lines have been replaced by this program already, and work will continue into 2023, providing replacements free of charge to our customers. Since its inception in 2016, PWSA has invested approximately $270 million in PENNVEST funding alone to replace lead lines and upgrade water infrastructure for thousands of our customers.
Ready for Future Regulatory Changes
The EPA has announced Lead and Copper Rule revisions that will impact water utilities across the country in the coming years. As part of the latest sampling event, PWSA evaluated the impact of future sampling requirements that go into effect in 2024. The changes include only collecting samples from lead service lines, which PWSA has been doing since 2018, and using the result of samples collected from the fifth liter collected to calculate the 90th percentile, instead of the first liter required by the current Lead and Copper Rule. Based on this sampling, PWSA is confident that our corrosion control treatment will continue to be compliant with the regulations once the revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule go into effect. Water providers will also be expected to build lead line resources before they exceed, test schools and daycares, and provide public lead inventories for their customers.
Since PWSA has prioritized the development of a robust Community Lead Response, we currently meet or exceed most new revisions set out by federal regulators. With a complete and public inventory, free lead testing for all residential water customers, a multimillion-dollar replacement program, and compliance testing that shows our water is well below the federal action level, we are committed to meeting regulatory standards.
“It has not always been easy, but the hurdles we have overcome since 2016 have resulted in a world-class lead remediation effort here in Pittsburgh,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering. “We are pleased with the continued effectiveness of orthophosphate in our system and look forward to the multimillion investment we will make in 2023 replacing thousands more lead lines,” he said.
In addition to corrosion control optimization and lead service line replacement, PWSA provides educational tools and other resources for lead in water. PWSA has always offered its water customers free lead test kits, to learn more about water quality in the home. Testing your home’s water is a great first step in protecting you and your family against lead contamination.
Water customers can also check our interactive lead map to see all PWSA data on lead service lines, as well as all replacement work that has taken place since its inception in 2016. We also provide an interactive map of all water, sewer, and stormwater projects at pgh2o.com/projects-maintenance/search-all-projects.
If you have questions about lead in drinking water, or you are interested in learning more about our various programs, contact the PWSA Lead Help Desk at 412-255-8987, LeadHelp@pgh2o.com or visit lead.pgh2o.com.