The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is temporarily suspending its program to partially replace lead water service lines less than a month after it officially began.
Since May 3, the authority said it has replaced lines at 81 locations, 49 of which also had lead on the private side of the service line. The authority said it has given property owners 45 days’ notice before replacing the public side so that owners could arrange to have the private side replaced as well.
PWSA said it has also notified customers of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s loan program for private lead line replacement, and that to date, no customers have applied for loans.
Eight customers who received partial lead line replacements submitted samples for testing, and of those, four had lead levels above Environmental Protection Agency’s action limit of 15 parts per billion.
PWSA said, because of those results, it is temporarily suspending the partial replacement program out of “an abundance of caution,” pending negotiations with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The authority has been working with the DEP over the last several weeks to reach a consent order and agreement that will lay out how PWSA will move forward with eliminating lead from its water distribution system.
The Safe Drinking Water Act mandates that authorities initiate a program to replace lead service lines once the Environmental Protection Agency’s action limit of 15 parts per billion is exceeded. Last summer, compliance testing showed that the top 10 percent of homes sampled had an average of 22 ppb. By December, that was down to 18 ppb.
PWSA has maintained that it cannot replace the private side of the water service line at the same time it replaces the public side because it is prohibited by the Municipal Authorities Act of 1945.
But a bill from state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42) that is meant to authorize PWSA to replace private lead service lines as well does not amend the Municipal Authorities Act. Instead it would modify a section called “Municipalities Generally” within the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross and Fontana have all expressed skepticism at PWSA’s argument that private line replacement is barred by the Municipal Authorities Act.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported in May that PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering pointed to case law based on the Municipal Authorities Act which prevented the authority from competing with a private business.
When presented with that information, Pickering pointed to a 2011 Commonwealth Court ruling that said PWSA can't provide a service that duplicates or interferes with one offered by a private business. In that case, Dominion Products and Services, Inc. v. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Dominion Products contested PWSA's residential line insurance program because Dominion sells home insurance coverage for water line installation and repair.
"The PWSA has followed requirements to replace lead lines, but the matter is threatening to become dangerous to our residents,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, as quoted in the PWSA press release. “We need to halt this replacement program until we have an understanding with the PADEP on how to properly and safety address this problem.”
Wagner released her own statement after the announcement. She criticized PWSA for doing what she called dangerous partial lead line replacements.
“The mayor must acknowledge that he cannot burden residents to pay up or be poisoned,” Wagner said in the statement. “While an end to partial line replacements is welcomed news, it must be followed by action; by a full line replacement program to begin immediately.”
The EPA stated in 2011 that it was possible that partial lead line replacement could increase lead levels in drinking water “by increasing the corrosion rate and/or increasing the chance that corroded lead will be mobilized.”