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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:

Pittsburgh Organization Offering Free Water Filters, Hosting Events On How To Prevent Lead Exposure

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Maya Gueran receives a free water filter after a lead exposure prevention workshop at the Millvale Community Library.

A local nonprofit is offering free water filters to Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers, while working to educate Pittsburgh-area residents on preventing lead exposure.

These workshops are being held by Women for a Healthy Environment in parts of the PWSA service area that the organization believes are particularly high risk for lead exposure. Leaders of the organization say the program is being funded by the Heinz Endowments and an EPA grant for environmental justice. 

Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Howa Marika, the Healthy Homes Coordinator for Women for a Healthy Environment, holds one of the free water filters her organization is giving away at a series of workshops on lead exposure prevention.

“Lead comes from the piping systems that’s just underground throughout the city,” said Hawa Marika, the organization’s Healthy Homes Coordinator, while giving out free water filters at an event at the Millvale Community Library Tuesday. “We haven’t done a great job about recording where those pipes are.”

PWSA said the majority of lead services lines were installed up until the 1950s, but records for Millvale are incomplete, even when compared to the rest of the water utility’s service area. PWSA said it’s in the process of digitizing and updating records, which are 100 years old.

Marika explained to workshop attendees that lead is a neurotoxin that can cause adverse health effects at any age. But kids under 6 years are particularly vulnerable developmental impairment. Starting Jan. 1, it became mandatory for children in Allegheny County to be tested for lead before the age of 2

Marika also demonstrated how to install one of the free filters and encouraged people to test their tap water with a free PWSA kit.

Millvale resident Maya Gueran said that lead exposure is a very important issue for her because she has a 9-month-old son.

“We live in an older house,” said Gueran. “This was a really good opportunity for me to get information and get a filter.”

Though Gueran said she already has a filter in her kitchen, she thinks the free one she received at the workshop may be better than her current one.

“I’ve actually thought about putting this in a different room, like possibly in the bedroom where we drink water during the night,” she said. “A backup is not a bad idea with a young kid.”  

WHE estimated that it has enough filters to continue these workshops until the end of June. The next one is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Community College of Allegheny County's Homewood-Brushton Center.

*This story was updated Jan. 3, 2018 to add comment from PWSA about lead service line installations. 

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.