What can I do?
Unless you are certain you do not have a lead service line, purchase bottled water for drinking and cooking or a filter that is NSF-approved to remove lead. (Note that filters cost around $30 and require regular replacement of filter cartridges to remain effective.)
Demand that the City identify the material in your service line by calling the PWSA at 412-255-2423. If there is no record, demand an immediate curb box inspection, which can identify the material without excavation.
While the City has been providing free water tests that can help identify homes with acute lead issues, these tests are also prone to false negatives due to the nature of lead contamination of household water. Contamination from lead plumbing can occur unevenly and at any time. Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, the nation’s preeminent expert on lead contamination of water, has stated “…you can take 20 to 30 samples of water lead and it’s zero, and the next glass could have an equivalent lead exposure to eating 10 lead paint chips.”
Call my Lead Hotline at 412-350-4300
Pittsburgh is currently in a category unto ourselves when it comes to the crisis of lead in our water. The PWSA is among the largest water systems in the country that have exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lead action level in the last five years, and currently tests at levels above those in Flint, Michigan.
While there are differences between the circumstances of Pittsburgh and Flint, they are far more alike than different:
In April of 2014, as Flint was changing its water source to the Flint River to save money, the PWSA made an illegal change in lead corrosion control chemicals, also to cut costs. Lead testing results released in July 2016 revealed that the 90th percentile lead level in the PWSA service area was 22 ppb. By comparison, in Flint, Virginia Tech researchers found a 90th percentile lead level of 25 ppb. As of July of 2017, the most recent round of testing for both cities, lead levels in Flint’s water system had fallen to 6 ppb, while those in Pittsburgh remain at 15 ppb.
Corrosion of Lead Lines
Although aging water infrastructure is a problem in many places, an illegal change in corrosion control chemicals by the PWSA in 2014 caused—or at least accelerated—the contamination of drinking water from lead pipes.
An estimated 1 in 4 homes served by PWSA are at risk of lead contamination following the corrosion control switch due to the presence of lead water service lines. Since PWSA admits they don’t know where all the lead lines are located, everyone must take precautions.
No solution provided
The City’s current non-transparent, slow-walking approach to a solution for this crisis is unacceptable and dangerous to City residents. Currently, the City plans to take until 2023 to even identify the location of all lead lines. And because the City has not yet disclosed even those locations where it does know there are lead pipes, many Pittsburgh residents are playing a game of “Russian Roulette” with their health and that of their families.
The limited action the City has taken risked making the problem worse. Until June, the PWSA was performing partial lead service line replacements that can disturb lead in the remain portion of the pipe. This practice was halted after testing showed increased lead levels. But hundreds of such replacements had already been performed, and elevated levels can linger for months after a lead pipe is disturbed.
IRREVERSIBLE HEALTH EFFECTS
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Association of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization agree: No level of lead is safe. Even low levels of lead in children can lead to lasting decreases in cognition.
Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, the lead researcher in Flint and a nationally recognized expert on lead in water, has said “You can’t have children drinking water with [lead levels detected in Pittsburgh] and not show significant elevations of blood lead.”
Health Department data also show that the percentage of Pittsburgh children testing with elevated blood lead levels increased concurrently with the PWSA corrosion control change even as that rate continued to decline for children in other areas of the County.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can cause irreversible health effects in children (diminished IQ, impulsivity, anxiety), pregnant women (increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth), the elderly (memory loss), and other adults (high blood pressure, kidney damage).
While using a filter that is NSF-approved to remove lead can be a short-term safeguard for health, the only real solution is to end partial line replacements and begin a program to replace ALL lead lines.
We CAN and MUST fix the problem NOW!
The City cannot continue to tell its residents to ‘pay up or be poisoned.’ They caused this problem and now they must fix it.
Full replacements needed
The only way to protect public health and also be cost effective is for the City to begin a comprehensive program to replace ALL lead lines without further delay.
Nearly a quarter of Pittsburgh residents live in poverty and more than half rent their homes. Renters of any income level and families living in poverty currently have no recourse to have dangerous lead lines serving their homes replaced. The City knows that most residents are unable to address this problem on their own.
The City cannot continue to tell its residents to “pay up or be poisoned”. They caused this problem and must commit to a firm deadline for fixing it.
Cities around the country have done this the right way relatively quickly and at low or no cost to homeowners. A comprehensive replacement program can greatly reduce costs by creating efficiencies of scale and averts the increased health risks of partial replacements and remaining lead lines.
We must expect nothing less from our City, which decades ago transformed itself from the ‘Smoky City’ by removing nearly all coal furnaces.