The Department of Environmental Protection Monday issued an order to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority requiring testing for lead at 100 sites in Pittsburgh’s water system because the Authority made changes to its water treatment process without approval by DEP that could have resulted in an increase in lead in drinking water.
In April 2014 the Authority replaced soda ash with caustic soda to control corrosion in the water distribution system without prior approval. The change continued through January of this year when the Authority announced it switched back to soda ash which alerted DEP to the change.
“Preliminary data shows no imminent threat to the public as a result of this unauthorized change. We are asking PWSA to analyze all data from April 2014 to January 2016, the period the authority used caustic soda, and the rest of 2016,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “We have put PWSA on notice that its unilateral decision to change treatment was a clear violation of safe drinking water regulations. PWSA had no authority to modify its treatment without first demonstrating to DEP that the proposed change would not adversely impact the corrosion control treatment, and obtaining DEP approval via a permit amendment.”
DEP sampled PWSA water on April 22, as it leaves the plant on its way into the distribution system. The results showed lead levels at less than 1 part per billion; and copper levels less than 4 parts per billion.
The federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) establishes an action level of 15 parts per billion for lead, and 1,300 parts per billion for copper.
In addition to testing at various sites around Pittsburgh’s water system, the Authority has agreed to provide free lead testing to its customers.
Customers who have concerns about their tap water can contact PWSA for free test kits and instructions on how to use them. Information on in-home testing is available on the PWSA website: www.pgh2o.com.
It was changes in Flint, Michigan’s water supply that resulted in more corrosive water being introduced into its water system without proper treatment.
PWSA’s public water supply permit, approved in 1995, requires the use of soda ash for corrosion control. Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is used because of its ability to prevent corrosion in water pipes, and because it helps to prevent leaching of lead and copper into the water.
Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) raises the pH of water to bind up metals, but does not have carbonate to coat water lines, and relies on the natural carbonates in the authority’s source water from the Allegheny River.
Although caustic soda is approved for use by some water systems, it will only be approved by DEP after proof of its effectiveness in each system
In its Administrative Order, DEP requires the following of PWSA:
-- Provide initial notice to all 300,000 customers about its prior change in corrosion control chemicals and the measures it is undertaking to evaluate impacts
-- Complete two rounds of lead and copper tap monitoring from 100 Tier 1 sites throughout the authority’s distribution area; with the first set of tests to be completed by June 30, with results to DEP by July 10; and the second set by December 31, with results to DEP by January 10, 2017
-- Provide any sampling data PWSA collected since June 1, 2013
-- Develop plan to investigate lead levels within its system, the effect of changes to treatment methods for corrosion control, and recommendations for appropriate changes to assure the best possible corrosion control measures for the system
-- Outline in subsequent customer notices details of water sampling and analysis, and updates on investigation of treatment change impacts.
“DEP does not take this action lightly,” said Secretary Quigley. “We do not tolerate deviation from water quality regulations that might, in any way, potentially compromise the public’s health and safety.
PWSA has cooperated with DEP’s initial investigation into the water treatment changes, and DEP expects that PWSA will continue to comply by conducting the required increased sampling, investigating any adverse impacts from the treatment change, and providing outreach to its customers.More information, including the Administrative Order, Notice of Violation, and details about this investigation will be posted on DEP’s Southwest Regional Office Community Information webpage.
For more information on lead in drinking water, visit DEP’s Lead In Drinking Water webpage.
DEP Says Pittsburgh Authority Violated Drinking Water Law