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Environment & Energy
Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website: hiddenpoison.org.

PWSA Says It's Fixing Billing Problems And Working To Improve Lead-Tainted Water

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials said Friday they’re working out the kinks causing inaccurate water bills for roughly 30,000 residents. 

Residents said they’ve received inaccurate or late bills for months.

PWSA Executive Director David Donahoe said the billing system, which uses digital meters in unison with an online billing program, weren't getting accurate readings. In February, the Pittsburgh Tribune-
reported that the PWSA was owed more than $30 million in unpaid bills. Then-Executive Director Jim Good resigned shortly after.

Donahoe said PWSA officials have spent the last week working out bugs in the software and expect it to work without issue by the end of summer. He did not give a specific date.

“A new combined remote meter system, connected to a new billing system, simply was not functioning properly,” Donahoe said.

Customers can expect a bill for the full amount owed once the system is fully operational. He said payment plans will be available.

PWSA is also working to improve water lines across the city. Donahoe said the authority is testing new chemicals to prevent pipe corrosion. Officials are also buckling down on unauthorized amounts of lead in city water.

In 2013, PWSA came close to violating the federal limit for lead in municipal water. Donahoe said by taking samples from 50 different locations, it was revealed city water had trace amounts of lead at 14.8 parts per billion, just under the legal limit of 15.

PWSA is offering free testing for individual residents or homeowners. According to Donahoe, since May, 454 tests have been collected. Of those, 57 percent showed zero traces of lead, 37 percent are within the legal limit and 5 percent are still above the legal limit. The highest reading was 60 ppb, he said.

For those homeowners over the limit, he said action is still required.

In Pennsylvania, all service lines that fall on private property cannot be maintained by the state, meaning the cost of repair falls solely on the owner.

Mayor Bill Peduto said it’s imperative to eradicate high levels of lead.

There was a recent national report that said over 5,000 water supply systems in this country are not in compliance when it comes to lead,” Peduto said. “Now some of that may be due to testing or how they test, but the fact of the matter is we have to be proactive.”

A report released Tuesday by the National Resources Defense Counsel found 5,363 water systems serving more than 18 million Americans violated federal lead testing rules in 2015, according to data analyzed from the Environmental Protection Agency.