PA Attorney General Files 161 Criminal Charges Against PWSA Over Lead Levels In Water

Feb 1, 2019

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Friday he filed 161 criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority relating to partial lead line replacements the authority made between 2016 and 2017.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:45 on 2/01/2019 

 

Shapiro said PWSA violated the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act and created health risks because it failed to give residents 45 days notice of intent to replace lead service lines. Shapiro also said the authority didn’t sample those replacement lines within the legally required time frame. Partial replacements can lead to spikes in lead levels.

“Those failures are criminal violations,” he said at a press conference. “Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water and I’m here today and every day to defend that.”

While no individual PWSA employees were found to have intent to harm Pittsburgh residents, the authority could face fines up to $12,500 per violation.

“We believe PWSA has the means to pay whatever fine is ultimately levied without jacking up the rates of people here in Pittsburgh,” Shapiro said.

The money people pay for their water comprises PWSA’s primary source of revenue. The authority already paid a civil fine for these same violations in 2017, when Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection charged the agency $2.4 million. Most of that money, $1.8 million, was put back into the authority’s lead line replacement efforts.

DEP did not comment for this story. But the 2017 consent order that addressed the 2016-2017 lead line replacements shows the majority of the violations cited by Shapiro were emergency repairs. A PWSA spokesperson says that disallowed advance notice to property owners and residents.

Testing from December showed that PWSA was still out of compliance with federal standards for lead in drinking water. More than 10 percent of the 161 homes sampled had lead levels above the EPA threshold of 15 parts per billion.

PWSA officials said last month the authority planned to start using a new chemical, orthophosphate, to prevent lead from pipes from leeching into the water. Executive Director Bob Weimar has said that the chemical will be more effective than current corrosion control measures.

The authority had originally hoped to begin adding orthophospate to water in August 2018, however that plan was not approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection until September 2018.

In an emailed statement, Weimar said he was "deeply disappointed" by Shapiro's decision to file charges and that some of the actions had already been addressed in a 2017 civil settlement with the DEP.

"We self-reported the issues to DEP, agreed to a civil penalty of $2.4 million, and have since established one of the most comprehensive lead service line replacement programs in the nation. We have cooperated with DEP and addressed the issues covered by the civil settlement. Additional fines related to these previous missteps would only divert ratepayer dollars that would otherwise be used for critical water quality improvement projects and programs. We will defend these charges.”

According to the EPA, there is no safe level of lead in water.

90.5 WESA reporter Liz Reid contributed to this report.