Pittsburgh, PA – The most recent round of testing completed by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) produced lead levels well below the state and federal action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). This is PWSA’s fifth consecutive compliant round of testing. All water samples were taken at high-risk homes with a known lead service line. The results announced today indicate the continued effectiveness of adding orthophosphate to PWSA’s water treatment process.
The 90th percentile result of 3.4 ppb is well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lead action level of 15 ppb. This is the lowest round of samples in over 20 years.
“We are very pleased to see our lead levels throughout the service area continue to trend downwards,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering. “Customers can be assured that we remain focused on treating our water to protect customers from exposure to lead while we maintain our programs to remove the remaining lead service lines,” he continued.
PWSA’s water came back into compliance in summer of 2020 and lead levels remained well below the EPA action level of 15 ppb since. Since the Community Lead Response’s inception in 2016, PWSA has replaced over 10,200 public lead service lines and over 7,100 private lead service lines at no direct cost to customers, putting it over halfway towards its goal of replacing all public lead lines in the service area.
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.
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. 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.
2023 Lead Programs
PWSA remains dedicated to removing all lead service lines from our water system and will do so with several targeted programs in 2023. With targeted lead line programs and other initiatives that replace lead, like water main upgrades, PWSA is on track to replace hundreds of lead lines this year.
Neighborhood Lead Service Line Replacement
Last year, the City of Pittsburgh approved and provided $17 million to PWSA from the American Rescue Plan to target lead service line replacement. Construction crews move through neighborhoods quickly and efficiently, replacing any lead service lines they discover. While the project was designed to inspect or replace lead at approximately 1,400 locations, PWSA is able to work at twice that amount, either inspecting for or replacing lead at about 2,400 locations.
"Everyone in our city deserves to have access to clean and healthy drinking water and I am proud of the work that PWSA has been leading to replace lead water lines throughout Pittsburgh," said Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. "This work would not have been possible without the support of ARPA funds, and we are thankful to President Biden and his administration for their work in helping to rebuild our critical infrastructure."
PENNVEST funding has allowed the lead service line replacements to continue, with a project to inspect the service lines at almost 1,500 locations starting this month, and funding approved for another project to work at approximately 1,200 additional locations slated for next year. This future work will be funded primarily through grants, which will not need to be paid back to PENNVEST.
Small Diameter Water Main Replacement
Water main replacements continue throughout PWSA’s service area, replacing aging infrastructure and lead lines. Two contracts were announced at the May 2023 Board of Directors meeting that will replace approximately nine miles of aging water main and approximately 1,200 service lines. At any location where lead is found, it will be replaced at no cost to the customer. Work is anticipated to begin in late summer of this year.
PWSA continues to assist customers with the cost of private lead service line replacement if they choose to proactively hire a plumber and complete the work. The Pgh2o Cares Team will verify income and determine the level of reimbursement provided to customers. More information can be found at lead.pgh2o.com/LeadReimbursement.
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 or at LeadHelp@pgh2o.com.