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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:

Testing Shows Elevated Lead Levels In Pittsburgh Water

Kailey Love
90.5 WESA
Pictured are pipes at Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's treatment facility in Aspinwall.

Lead levels in Pittsburgh’s drinking water are back above the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced Monday that the latest round of compliance testing showed levels at 21 parts per billion.

Interim executive director Bob Weimar said earlier this month that he anticipated lead levels to rise during this round of testing, because ineligible homes without lead pipes or solder had been purged from the compliance program.

“We’re trying to be more transparent,” Weimar said. "We’re trying to tell the state and others more explicitly here’s what we have. We’re going beyond, I think, what others do to ensure that there’s no question about the purpose and intent and result of our program.”

PWSA said 22 sites that had been included in previous rounds of testing were found to not have lead pipes or solder, which could have skewed previous results downward.

He said the authority has a plan for reducing lead levels through corrosion control.

“We have identified and sent to the state a recommendation for applying orthophosphate to the water, and as a result, we will be able to show much less lead corrosion,” Weimar said.

Weimar said the chemical is expected to bring lead levels below 5 parts per billion in homes known to have lead pipes or solder, though there is no known safe level of lead in water.

The news of elevated lead levels came as Mayor Bill Peduto announced his administration will implement recommendations proposed by a panel aimed at restructuring the PWSA.

Peduto issued an executive order Monday that will begin the process of appointing an independent board to select a new board of directors for the authority.

The mayor would appoint the initial board of nominators, but it would remain independent going forward.

The stated purpose of creating an independent nominating board is to insulate PWSA directors from political influence.

*This story was updated at 10:11 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2018 to reflect that 22 sites had been included in testing.