Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is once again sounding the alarm on lead levels in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.
Wagner’s office said Friday that data reported to the state shows an increase in lead levels between July and December 2017.
Lead levels in water first breached the federal action limit of 15 parts per billion in the summer of 2016.
Since then, PWSA has reported that lead levels have been falling. In June, they were at 15 parts per billion, which is considered to be in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards.
PWSA has not yet released official compliance testing data gathered in December 2017, and executive director Bob Weimar said he cannot confirm Wagner’s claim that the latest testing shows levels at 21 parts per billion.
But he did say that the authority has discovered that some sites included in previous rounds of testing were not “Tier 1” sites; that is, they did not have either lead service lines or solder. He said some had had lead line replacements and others did not have lead lines to begin with. Those sites have since been purged from the testing program, which Weimar said could account for higher lead levels based on samples taken in late 2017.
Weimar said this represents an increased commitment to transparency in the compliance testing program.
Wagner spokesperson Lou Takacs called Weimar’s statement an encouraging development.
“We do know in the past that a lot of attention has not been paid to ensuring that all the homes they test are those tier 1 sites,” Takacs said.
Weimar said PWSA is expecting that the latest round of compliance testing will show lead levels above 15 parts per billion, which was acknowledged in a consent order reached with the state Department of Environmental Protection in late 2017.
“That agreement established that we were likely to go over the standard in this latest round and we planned for that event,” he said. “So we are planning to do 2100 service lines in the next 12 months.”
The state requires PWSA to replace 7 percent of lead services lines annually, a standard the authority has not yet been able to meet.
But Takacs said regional leaders, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, must “step up” to increase the rate of lead line replacement.
“Families have been dealing with this for … years,” Takacs said. “Seven percent a year is just really not enough.”
PWSA did not provide a timeline for when the official results from the latest round of compliance testing would be available.