Demands transparency
following PWSA’s failure to respond to Open Records request

(Pittsburgh) April 5, 2017 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) must immediately release records showing where it has conducted hundreds of dangerous partial service line replacements to date and all locations where it plans to perform them in the coming months. PWSA must replace 1,500 of its lead lines by July per agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Wagner’s office yesterday filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records after the PWSA failed to respond to Wagner’s request last week under the Open Records Law for information on the replacements within the required five business day time frame. The PWSA then issued a “30-day” letter today, through which it communicated that it will delay providing this transparency to Pittsburgh residents, or could attempt to withhold this information altogether.

“While I continue to call on Mayor Peduto to cease the very dangerous partial line replacement approach that can double lead levels in household water, at an absolute minimum he must ensure that residents know where the hundreds of partial line replacements have already been conducted and where the planned replacements are located for the next four months. Without such transparency regarding line replacement locations, residents will continue to be kept in the dark regarding their increased exposure to lead,” Wagner said.

The PWSA is required to replace 1,500 of the lead service lines it owns by July but has refused to develop a program to replace the customer-owned portion of the line, which would negate the heightened lead risk. Instead, individual homeowners are responsible for a replacement that can cost thousands of dollars.

“The City is doing the bare minimum, and even that is not being done with the care required to protect residents’ health. We need to know which homes have already been put at risk, and these families must be notified of the danger and re-tested, as federal guidelines require,” Wagner said. “These families also must be rushed filters. Those for whom the problem has been made worse cannot be forced to endure the City’s slow-walking of the plan to provide filters.”

“The Mayor has repeatedly assured the public that this would be a transparent process, yet the failure to reveal the location of line replacements demonstrates the most basic lack of transparency, on top of the City’s continued failure to address the problem long-term, and continued delays to protecting the public in the short term. While our residents wait for government action, at an absolute minimum they need City government to be open and transparent immediately, so that they may take action for themselves and most especially their children until the City gets its house and priorities in order,” she said.

Wagner additionally called on the Mayor to disclose to the public when the digitization of records of lead line locations would be available publicly. The PWSA had indicated in prior months that they were in the process of digitizing records so that all lead line locations would be publicly available and searchable, but has provided no update or date certain so the public may know when they will have access to this information.

“As Pittsburgh continues to promote itself as a ‘Smart City,’ and one that utilizes technology to better its government, here is the opportunity for Pittsburgh to show the residents who are here now whether this is in fact true. The scope of the lead crisis we face cannot continue to be hidden from our residents.”