The Department of Environmental Protection announced Tuesday, the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water staff will oversee and work with Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority following results showing an action level exceedance from the first round of lead and copper sampling from 100 Tier 1 sites in the Authority’s distribution area.
An action level exceedance is not a violation, but triggers other requirements that include water quality parameter monitoring, corrosion control treatment, source water monitoring, public education and lead service line replacement.
“This is a serious concern, and DEP will be working with PWSA to inform and educate consumers of the risks of lead in drinking water, and find solutions to reduce the lead levels in the water,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “The top priority is to return the system to below the action level as quickly as possible.”
An action level exceedance occurs if more than 10 percent of the results are above the action level. Those results, obtained in early July from samples collected in May and June, show that the 90th percentile compliance value for lead is 22 parts per billion (ppb), which exceeds the federal action level of 15 ppb.
DEP Safe Drinking Water staff in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg will continue to analyze test results and monitor actions by PWSA staff as they carry out the Authority’s regulatory obligations triggered by the lead action level exceedance.
PWSA must conduct the following activities because of the exceedance of the lead action level:
-- Develop public education materials and implement a public education program by September 1, 2016.
-- Develop a complete listing of all lead service lines and begin a lead service line replacement program where at least 7 percent of lead service lines are replaced annually.
Tier 1 sites are homes with lead service lines or internal piping made of lead or with lead solder. These homes represent houses likely to have the highest lead level readings in the system, and by federal and state law must be sampled on a regular basis.
PWSA was last required to sample homes for lead and copper in 2013, and reported a 90th percentile lead level of 14.8 ppb, just under the lead action level.
In April, DEP issued an Administrative Order citing PWSA for making a substantial modification to its drinking water treatment system without prior DEP approval. DEP required PWSA to initiate detailed technical analyses to assess the effect the change might have had on corrosion levels in the system and to optimize corrosion control treatment.
DEP also ordered PWSA to complete two rounds of 100 samples each of lead and copper tap monitoring. The second set of monitoring must be completed by December 31, 2016 with results delivered to DEP by January 10, 2017.
DEP’s Order also requires the Authority to provide public notice to its customers within 30 days after the end of each of the two rounds of lead and copper sampling to report the 90th percentile value it obtained as well as the Authority’s progress with its system investigation and corrosion control optimization study.
PWSA has cooperated with DEP throughout the investigation into the water treatment changes. The Authority has launched its own investigation of the elevated lead levels to determine where and how the lead is getting into the drinking water, and they continue to offer customers free lead testing kits.
Information on lead and water testing is available on the PWSA website.
DEP’s Southwest Regional Office Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority webpage has background on the actions taken by DEP with the Authority on the lead in drinking water issue.
Background On Lead
Although most lead exposure occurs when people eat paint chips, inhale lead contaminated dust, or ingest lead-contaminated residential soil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from drinking water.
Lead is rarely found in the source of a public water supply such as a river or creek. Rather, it enters tap water through the corrosion of a home's service line or plumbing materials.
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, newer homes may also be at risk from corrosion of brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures.
The purpose of the Lead and Copper Rule is to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper levels in drinking water, primarily by making water less corrosive.
Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body.
The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children.
There are steps consumers can take to reduce lead in drinking water:
-- Run your water to flush out lead. If water hasn't been used for several hours, run water for 15-30 seconds or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking.
-- Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap and do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula; lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
-- Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
-- Test your water for lead. Contact your water system for more information about getting your water tested. Your water system can also provide information about local laboratories that conduct lead testing.For more information, visit DEP’s Lead In Drinking Water webpage.
Lead Levels In Pittsburgh Drinking Water Exceed EPA Action Threshold