PWSA, state Attorney General’s Office reach settlement in lead contamination case

Worker holding pipe in hole

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – The state Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that it has reached a settlement with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority over the agency’s handling of lead pipe replacements after high levels of the metal were found citywide in the aging system.

Under the settlement, the PWSA must pay $500,000 to various organizations and hire an independent monitor, according to the AG’s office.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged PWSA in February 2019 with 161 third-degree misdemeanors related to the lead line replacements, alleging that the authority failed to properly notify Pittsburgh residents of potential health risks and failed to collect timely water samples when it removed certain lead service lines in 2016 and 2017, violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The authority vowed to fight the charges, and the case was sent to Allegheny County Common Pleas for trial. Each of the criminal counts would have cost PWSA about $2 million under state rules.

“By failing to inform residents of the impact of the replacement program, PWSA prevented residents from knowing when and how to take simple steps that would have protected their health,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement requires the authority to donate $250,000 to the Safe and Healthy Homes program, and $250,000 will be donated to Women for a Healthy Environment’s “Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh” program, according to the AG’s office.

“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is supposed to serve the people — and when residents were unnecessarily exposed to a temporary spike in drinking water lead levels caused by PWSA’s own pipe-replacement program — they failed,” the attorney general said in a statement.

PWSA estimated about 12,500 of 81,000 residential service connections were made with lead. Exposure is linked to developmental problems in children and other ailments.

The authority anticipates replacing roughly 10,000 lead service lines by 2026. In January 2019, PWSA approved $35.9 million to continue lead line replacements.

In the meantime, the authority has been using an additive throughout its water distribution system to reduce lead levels in drinking water. The additive, orthophosphate, helps reduce corrosion in water service lines made of lead. The food-grade additive forms a protective coating inside old service lines that prevents toxic lead from leaching into the water. PWSA officials have said orthophosphate is expected to be more effective than a soda-ash-and-lime treatment process instituted earlier to prevent pipe corrosion.

Read the full story here.

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