"It's A Public Health Crisis" - Is Pittsburgh The Next Flint?

We have noted that Flint, Michigan is not alone with its 'poisonous water' problems, it appears Pittsburgh is near a tipping point as WSJ reports, according to EPA data, a total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months. "It's a public health crisis," warns one city official.

A Reuters investigation late last year uncovered nearly 3,000 different communities across the U.S. with lead levels higher than those found in Flint, Michigan, which has been the center of an ongoing water contamination crisis since 2014.

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Last week, Michigan’s legislature voted to send $100 million in federal funds to Flint for lead-pipe replacements and other infrastructure upgrades. The funds were approved by the Obama administration in December.

And now, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Pittsburgh, which exceeded the lead limit last July for the first time, is drawing renewed attention to the problems besetting crumbling and heavily indebted water systems nationwide. Pittsburgh’s troubled water authority has nearly $1 billion in debt and has been plagued with allegations of overbilling and water-main breaks. It began testing for lead in the late 1990s.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority serves about two-thirds of the city, or about 250,000 people. It treats water from the Allegheny River and distributes it through 1,000 miles of pipes to 81,000 homes.

The authority estimates that a quarter of those homes have lead pipes.

The lead levels in Pittsburgh’s drinking water, based on sampling from a limited number of homes, reached 22 parts per billion last July and fell to 18 ppb in December. The next test results will be released in June. Exceeding the 15 ppb federal action level triggers increased regulatory oversight, and cities are typically required to begin replacing lead pipes and launch a public awareness campaign about the hazards of lead in water.

“It’s a public health crisis,” said Ms. Wagner, a Democrat who has criticized the mayor for not responding quickly enough when higher lead levels were found last year.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher who helped uncover lead contamination in Flint, said Pittsburgh’s lead woes are representative of issues facing many older cities. No one in Pittsburgh with a lead pipe should be drinking the water without a filter,” he said.

He criticized Pittsburgh officials for replacing only the public portion of lead service lines. In the short term, the disruption typically causes more lead to be released from the remaining lead pipe, he said.

“We have old pipes, and some of those pipes are lead,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat. “What took many decades to happen with the system itself will take at least a decade to solve.”