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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:

Allegheny County Controller Says Health Department’s Lead Testing Not Enough, Launches Audit

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
UPMC phlebotomist Candice Graham takes a blood sample from 10-month-old Eleanor Comeau while her mother Amanda holds her, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she will investigate the county health department’s methodology for determining the cause of elevated lead levels in children.

Allegheny County Health Director Karen Hacker said lead levels in tested children show a steady decrease over the past several years. It's common practice to test a child's blood for lead content before their first birthday. But there are many geographic areas of the region where little testing is taking place, she said. 

“With 15 percent of our children tested, it is not a representative sample,” Hacker said.

Hacker said the health department's investigations of elevated levels were all determined to have been caused by lead paint chips and soil, not water. But Wagner said more information is needed.

“That supposed information from the health department has been the basis for Mayor Peduto to claim that we don’t have a lead water crisis,” Wagner said.

Wagner is calling on the city to declare a public health crisis in regards to lead in the water.

Wagner said her office will begin an expedited audit of the health department’s practices, to determine what data’s missing and the methodology for testing water. Health department officials said they do some testing from investigated environments, but it's not their responsibility to test water.

At a press conference Monday, Hacker lauded her department’s efforts in the past year to address the problem of lead. She said although the department received a decrease in federal funding, it repurposed one position as a lead inspector, and is training other housing inspectors to look into lead. The health department also lowered the necessary level of lead detected in order to trigger an investigation.

Both Wagner and Hacker said they believe more testing is necessary. The health department will vote in two weeks on mandatory universal testing for high lead.