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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:

PWSA Board Members Tell Council Lead And Better Billing Are Top Priorities

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA
PWSA Board Members Paul Leger (center) and Margaret Lanier (Right) speak to City Council, Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

While being grilled by the Pittsburgh City Council during a reappointment hearing Wednesday, PWSA board member and City Department of Finance Treasurer Margaret Lanier said dealing with lead needs to be the system’s top priority.

The Authority has been working to lower the amount of lead in residential tap water since at least 2016, when it acknowledged elevated lead levels in the system due, in part, to a switch in chemicals used to treat the water.

By code, Pittsburgh’s Director of Finance and the department’s Treasurer are members of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board. However, Pittsburgh City Council still gets a periodic opportunity to review their appointment.

Wednesday, Lanier and City Finance Director Paul Leger were called before council to be interviewed for reappointment.

“Billing and customer service, that’s another priority,” Lanier said.  “The rate payers have a right to be billed regularly and to get a correct bill.”

Thousands of Pittsburgh residents went months without getting a bill last year, only to find several months worth of charges being demanded within 30 days.

Leger said his work with the PWSA consumes 40 percent of his time and much more of his mental capacity.

“I don’t stay up at night worrying about city revenues, because we do well enough. But I do worry at night about whether or not the water system is secure,” Leger said. “It’s a tremendous burden.”

Ledger said, since the city took control of PWSA from management company Veolia, it has peeled back the layers of mismanagement.  He said the board has been working to keep residents informed while fixing the problems.

He said it's imperative that the PWSA work to solve the problems as quickly as possible.

“If Pittsburgh is to be an attractive city, you cannot have a water system that is unattractive and being compared to Flint, Mich., which we’re not in anyway," Leger said. "But that is a major deterrent to people coming here or locating here."

Several council members used the hearing to praise Leger and Lanier for their hard work on the board, but others used the opportunity to voice their concerns.

“I think the PWSA has gone downhill for the last four years,” Councilwoman Darlene Harris said. “It appears it has turned political.”

Harris complained loudly while campaigning for Mayor, that the Peduto administration was firing some of the PWSA’s best employees and mismanaging the system's infrastructure.

Theresa Kail-Smith complained the interim director is making too much money and asked Leger and Lanier to lower the pay rate when they find a permanent replacement. She also asked them to promise that they would require the next director to live in the city. Lanier said she would, but Leger would not make the same promise.