Warns Residents of Increased Health Risks and Calls for the City to Cease Dangerous Actions
(Pittsburgh) May 15, 2017 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today made public on a new website (LeadPGH.com) the locations where hundreds of dangerous partial water service line replacements have been performed by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). This data was obtained by Wagner’s office through a Right to Know request to the PWSA.
“While I thank the PWSA for its timely response to my request for this information under the Right to Know law, this information should have already been public. The City, PWSA, and County Health Department need to ensure this information is getting into the hands of residents,” Wagner said.
The block-level locations where partial lead line replacements were conducted between January 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017 can be found at LeadPGH.com. Residents may visit the site and zoom in to the interactive map to view replacements that have occurred to up to April 30, 2017 by specific blocks in their neighborhood and citywide.
Studies of lead contamination of water have shown that replacing only a portion of a lead service line can disturb lead in the remaining portion of the line if it is lead, causing greater contamination of the water. In the words of Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University, the nation’s preeminent expert on lead contamination of water, “Frankly, doing nothing is preferable to doing a half-pipe replacement.”
Only homes where the owner’s side of the service line was replaced with a non-lead pipe prior to or following PWSA’s partial replacement can be assured safety, but Wagner noted that this is cost prohibitive to many if not most homeowners.
“Scientific studies have shown conclusively that partial lead line replacements are terribly dangerous, and the EPA is among those agencies that warn strongly against them. Partial line replacements greatly increase already dangerous levels of lead. And now, not only do we have residents who are in the dark about our lead crisis, we have residents believing the problem has been fixed. This is an absolute failure of government to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially our children, who are at greatest risk,” Wagner said.
Wagner referred to a study showing that six months after a line replacement, lead levels had decreased in each home receiving a full replacement, while levels had remained steady or increased in homes with partial replacements. Short-term results were even more dramatic, the study showed.
Trueman, B. F., Camara, E., & Gagnon, G. A. (2016). Evaluating the effects of
full and partial lead service line replacement on lead levels in drinking water.
Environmental Science & Technology, 50(14), 7389-7396.
Wagner called on Mayor Bill Peduto to cease partial line replacements immediately and to initiate a public program to fully replace lead lines from the water main all the way into the home. She pointed to ordinances enacted in cities including Milwaukee and Madison, Wisc., which outlawed partial line replacements because of the increased danger, and referred to cities across the country that have undertaken full line replacements, to both ensure the safety of drinking water by avoiding partial line replacements, and to achieve costs savings with economies of scale.
“Residents must know that this isn’t just a half-baked solution, it is one that can double their exposure to lead. We must especially ensure that homes with young children know their water is not safe — but likely is even more dangerous than before,” she said.
Wagner also indicated that the PWSA had failed in the past to follow three major EPA guidelines, including (1) 45-day advance notice of partial line replacements, (2) warnings of increased health risk, and (3) follow-up testing, all of which are required when the utility performs a partial line replacement. It remains unclear if the PWSA is now following any or all of these guidelines.
Wagner called on the Allegheny County Health Department to launch investigations into how residents of these homes have been affected, noting the ease with which ACHD could locate, evaluate, and test anywhere a partial line replacement was conducted without removing the remaining lead line.
Wagner added, “Let’s not forget our lead crisis was caused by the PSWA. In no way should the City allow that problem to be made even worse, or expect homeowners to fix a problem the City created. If you have a lead pipe you are at risk, and no level of lead is safe. It is long past time for this City to get its house in order and do right by our residents and our children.”
Along with the data on partial service line replacements, LeadPGH.com contains other information on the lead crisis PWSA customers have been facing for at least three years, and visitors can sign up to receive further updates. Wagner’s office will be requesting regular updates on partial line replacements if they are allowed to continue, and will add this data to the website.