Allegheny County Controller Calls For More Oversight Of PWSA

Dec 19, 2016

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner reviews the results of her office's audit of the Allegheny County Health Department's oversight of water systems on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016.
Credit Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

No agency is independently testing or verifying the quality of Pittsburgh’s drinking water, according to an audit released Monday by Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Wagner said the Allegheny County Health Department should be monitoring the city’s water because it has the ability and expertise to validate test results and do its own testing if necessary.

“It’s certainly not a stretch to say we have a drinking water crisis here in Pittsburgh,” Wagner said, citing her own issues with long PWSA lead testing delays.

The level of lead in the Pittsburgh Sewer and Water Authority’s drinking water recently exceeded the federal action level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker said her agency would only take actions like verifying test results if the state Department of Environmental Protection requested it to.

“They are going through all of the action levels that they are required to do by the Lead and Copper Rule,” she said. “We’ve been joining them at those public meetings.”

Wagner said the health department’s public outreach efforts regarding lead in water have not been substantial enough.

“We cannot as an agency in our current role relationship with the DEP take our own steps,” Hacker said. “We must look to the DEP to determine whether or not they would want to take the steps for that (water quality test) validation. If they requested us to do that, we could go ahead and do that.”

Hacker said she’s much more concerned with the dangers of lead in paint.

The controller’s chief legal counsel said the health department could take more proactive actions. The department has a moral imperative to prioritize water quality, Wagner said.