Shapiro: PWSA to donate $500K, hire independent monitor for lead project failures

Worker in hole fixing pipes

Tribune-Review – Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will hire an independent monitor and make $500,000 in donations to organizations that promote safety for those exposed to lead in old water pipes as part of an agreement, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Thursday.

PWSA unnecessarily exposed people to increased lead levels in their drinking water when it replaced pipes in 2016 and 2017. Further, PWSA didn’t warn customers of the temporary spike in lead in their water, Shapiro said.

The settlement ends the Attorney General’s office probe into whether PWSA was negligent when it failed to tell customers about the impact of its pipe replacement program and in doing so it prevented residents from knowing when and how they could have taken steps to protect themselves.

PWSA had faced 161 criminal counts and fines ranging from $201,250 to $2 million for the violations.

The authority was also assessed a civil penalty of $2.4 million levied by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the same issues.

PWSA said the violations were not intentional.

“I want to make sure our customers know PWSA is deeply sorry for not meeting the standards you expect of us and we expect of ourselves,” PWSA Executive Director Will Pickering said in a statement. “We’ve shifted our culture and priorities since 2016 and 2017, revising our compliance systems, enhancing public outreach, and dramatically increasing our lead line replacement program.”

PWSA is committed to public health and the well-being of its customers, Pickering said.

PWSA will hire an independent company to monitor is lead program and will donate $250,000 each to the Safe and Healthy Homes program and Women for a Healthy Environment’s “Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh” program.

The donations keep the penalties assessed because of PWSA’s failures in local hands, Shapiro said.

He called PWSA’s behavior crass and said PWSA put the needs of insiders before its customers.

Women for a Health Environment aims to keep neighborhoods safe from lead poisoning, its executive director, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, said.

“We provide education, technical assistance including testing and remediation, and advocacy that offer solutions to reducing lead exposure in homes, schools and early learning centers,” Naccarati-Chapkis said in a statement. “Among our initiatives is ‘Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh,’ a public awareness campaign focused on supporting municipalities and families who are impacted by lead poisoning,”

When lead water lines are replaced, the disruption in water service can cause a spike in lead levels in drinking water.

By not notifying residents when the pipes were being replaced, thousands of people were left in the dark and were exposed to the increased lead levels in their drinking water, Shapiro’s office said. PWSA also didn’t test water after the lines were replaced to verify the increased lead levels had subsided.

The independent monitor will provide reports to the Attorney General, PWSA and state Department of Environmental Protection as a check on PWSA’s conduct.

Since the time of the violations, PWSA has worked with officials to get state laws changes that allow PWSA to end partial lead line replacements and instead replace full lead service lines, including service lines on private property, PWSA said.

The homes that received partial lead line replacements in 2016 and 2017 were contacted by PWSA and offered a no-cost full line replacement, test kits and filters.

PWSA has replaced 7,300 lead service lines since 2017, Pickering said.

“We are well on our way to our goal of replacing all lead lines in the city of Pittsburgh in the next few years,” he said. “We also established a Community Lead Response Advisory Committee to further increase transparency and community responsiveness.”

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