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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:

Peduto: ‘It Isn’t Pittsburgh And Flint,’ Many Cities Have Elevated Lead In Their Water

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA
Mayor Bill Peduto says Pittsburgh and Flint aren't alone in facing lead issues with their water, thousands of cities across the U.S. have elevated levels of lead.

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday evening at a town hall called “Not Another Flint” to discuss the water challenges confronting Pittsburgh.

“It isn’t Pittsburgh and Flint as some people are trying to make it out to be,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “There are over 5,330 other water systems in the United States that have the same elevated lead.”

Samples of Pittsburgh’s water exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's action limit of 15 parts per billion of lead in June 2016.

The town hall came less than two weeks after Peduto addressed an advisory panel on the short- and long-term challenges of the city’s water system and possible restructuring of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

“As we follow the EPA’s consent decree on replacing lead pipes, that has to be a priority,” Peduto said.  

Under the consent decree, PWSA must replace 1,500 of its lead pipes by July 1. 

“We must meet it,” he said.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagnercalled on the PWSA to immediately release records showing where it has done partial service line replacements, because people “are being kept in the dark” and they need to know which homes and families "have already been put at risk.”

According to Peduto, the digitizing of records only began in 2013 and what files they had existed on paper.

“That goes back to the Civil War era where pipes may have been, may not have been, and basically where files don’t exist,” he said. 

So, he said, PWSA is testing to find the lead lines in some 80,000 different locations.

Wagner accused the city of doing “the bare minimum.”

“(PWSA) has refused to develop a program to replace the customer-owned portion of the line, which would negate the heightened lead risk,” she said.

Though, Peduto said it’s more complicated than that.

“It is illegal for us to replace a private line,” Peduto said. “The state of Pennsylvania views it as competition against private plumbers.”

Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) introduced legislation to change the Municipal Authorities Act to allow public authorities to replace the private lines from the curb to the building. But Peduto cautioned that might not be a complete fix.

“The pipe from the basement to the kitchen is still a lead pipe,” Peduto said. “Even if it is not lead, the solder on the pipes could be lead and that’s more likely to break.”

He added that there are experts that understand the health implications “far better than the county controller and me.”

According to Peduto, experts have said “there’s a much greater threat to our public with lead in our paint, in our dust and in our dirt than in our water.”

Peduto said that there should be public concern about lead in the city’s water, but it can’t be the sole focus.  

“If you’re simply focusing on water and you’re not looking at where the real risk is to people getting lead poisoning, I don’t understand how that is doing the public a service,” he said.