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Modernization, Line Replacement Helped PWSA Significant Reduce Lead In PGH Water Supply

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
The latest lead tests of Pittsburgh's water supply show 5.1 parts per billion, which is acceptable under EPA and DEP requirements.


On today's program: PWSA and elected officials announced the lead levels in water are now in compliance with EPA and DEP requirements; on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, advocates and activists look to the  future; and a new grant program will help minority business owners in Pennsylvania struggling due to the coronavirus. 

PWSA cites orthophosphate as one reason for lower lead levels in water
(00:00 — 6:37)

Four years ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to control lead levels in water for hundreds of thousands of customers. The order came after the levels topped the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion.

PWSA and elected officials announced Wednesday that the water is now in compliance with DEP and Environmental Protection Agency requirements. Latest tests show the lowest lead levels in many customers’ water since 1998 —5.1 parts per billion.

WESA’s infrastructure and transportation reporter,Margaret J. Krauss, says PWSA follows strict sampling guidelines from the EPA to ensure accurate test results. 

Will Pickering, executive director of PWSA, credited, in part, orthophosphate, which PWSA began adding to the water in April of 2019. The orthophosphate coats the lead service lines, creating a barrier between the water and the pipes.

“Replacing lead lines is a physically intensive, time intensive, money intensive job that is going to take until at least 2026 to replace all the lead lines in the service area,” says Krauss. “And so in the meantime, orthophosphate, PWSA says, is the best way to protect the most number of people.”

PWSA says theyplan to modernize other parts of the water infrastructure, including the Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant. The department hasn’t announced a target date of completion. 

Disability advocates say the future must be inclusive
(6:40 — 13:24)

Disability advocates and activists are looking to the future, and they say there’s still more to be done.

Over the last 30 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has increased access and opportunities for people with disabilities. Dr. Josie Badger, the founder and president of J Badger Consulting and the campaign manager of the #IWantToWorkCampaign, and Chaz Kellem, the director ofPittServes at the University of Pittsburgh, say the ADA has made people more aware of the rights and capabilities of people with disabilities.

“Instead of really needing to argue that we have a right, it is assumed that we have the right to have access to everything that everyone else has,” says Badger.

“The disability community is no longer a community with our hand out for help,” Kellem says. “We want to be active and we want to help others, and we want to work collaboratively with our communities to make it better.”

Younger activists need to step up, according to them, and continue to “think outside the box” to make workplaces, neighborhoods, and other public spaces more inclusive and accessible.

“They are going to change how disability is perceived as just something that’s part of everyday life and not a separate committee, not a part of someone else’s job, but it’s about just being a part of the world around us and speaking out for what’s right,” says Badger. 

New COVID-19 relief grants target minority business owners  (13:27 — 18:02)

Black and Latinx small business owners across the country have been hit hardest by the coronavirus shutdown. They’ve also been less likely to receive federal aid than white counterparts.

A new Pennsylvania state grant program is taking a small step toward fixing that. Keystone Crossroads’Miles Bryan reports that at least half the funds from theCOVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance programwill go to minority business owners


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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