Hidden Poison

Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website: hiddenpoison.org.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

About an hour east of Pittsburgh, in Indiana, Pa., inside a windowless building set far back from the road, the scientists at Environmental Service Laboratories test all kinds of things for safety and compliance with regulations, from drinking water to toys to hazardous waste.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Carol McCullough, 76, lives in the West End neighborhood of Westwood in the home she and her husband have shared for nearly 50 years. She had her water tested for lead years ago, but when the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced last summer that it had found elevated lead levels in some homes, she decided to get another test, just to be safe.

Seth Perlman / AP Photo

Twenty stories—and one controller's audit!—to get you up to speed on Pittsburgh's lead problem, from our partners and other local outlets.

 

 

“Pittsburgh to Provide Water Filters to All Residents to Reduce Lead Exposure"
90.5 WESA News
March 8, 2017

 

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

With no exceptions, the $1 million Safe Water Plan will distribute water filters to city residents to reduce exposure to lead. People living within the city’s boundaries are eligible to receive one, regardless of income level, whether they rent or own, or who their water provider is.

While it’s a start, Mayor Bill Peduto said this is not a long-term solution.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Pennsylvania gets a failing grade for its efforts to protect children from high levels of lead in the water at their schools, according to a report released two weeks ago from Public Interest Research Groups, a national federation of left-leaning, independent nonprofits.

It advises—among other things—that schools install water filters as soon as possible while working on longer-term solutions.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross is leading a fundraising effort to buy lead-filtering water pitchers for families with young children.

She said the city could provide a countertop pitcher to each of Pittsburgh's estimated 25,000 households with a child under age 6 for less than $1 million. She said she hopes private foundations and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will be able to allocate funding within a month.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb on Thursday released a draft of the performance audit of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Thursday with 53 recommended changes.

The audit was concurrent with widespread customer billing and meter problems, issues of lead in drinking water and inconsistent leadership.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

A flush and boil water advisory affecting 100,000 Pittsburghers earlier this month, delays in lead test results and billing snafus have led Mayor Bill Peduto to call for an advisory panel to mull the idea of restructuring the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Butler School District Sued Over Lead Levels In Water

Feb 9, 2017
Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A western Pennsylvania school district where high levels of lead in an elementary school's water went unresolved for months faces a federal lawsuit.

The school, Summit Elementary, was closed for two days in January after Butler School District Superintendent Dale Lumley said he learned the problem hadn't been rectified since it was detected in August.

The school has since been closed indefinitely for unrelated problems with E. coli in the wells from which the school's water is drawn, and its students began classes Monday in another previously shuttered building.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A western Pennsylvania school superintendent has resigned after water problems forced an elementary school to close and relocate students to a previously shuttered building.

According to the Butler Area School District’s website, Dr. Dale Lumley’s resignation is effective immediately.

Summit Elementary in Summit Township was closed for two days

About two weeks ago, the district and Department of Environmental protection worked to rectify high lead levels in the well water provided to the property.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A western Pennsylvania elementary school has been closed for two days so the district can deal with high level of lead in its water, which comes from a well.

Butler Area School District Superintendent Dale Lumley apologized to irate parents who attended a Monday meeting about the problems at Summit Elementary.

Students were given bottled water for two days earlier this school year after water tests in August found lead.

Claire Black / Flickr

The Allegheny County Board of Health wants children to be regularly tested for lead poisoning.

The board is moving forward with a new rule that would mandate blood testing at 9 months and again at 2 years of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said children in that age range put things in their mouths, making them more susceptible to poisoning than adults.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

At more than three hours, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials said the informational meeting they held Wednesday in Lawrenceville was one of the longest yet.

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.

Aaron Warnick / PublicSource

 

What was supposed to be a routine visit to the pediatrician with little Oren resulted in a finding that sent Katy Rank Lev and her husband, Corey, into a frenzy.

Their 1-year-old had lead in his blood.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public officials have installed between three and six water bottle filling stations in each the district's 54 schools after finding 141 water fixtures texted positive for elevated levels of lead.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority this week announced changes to its protocol for testing customer water samples for lead that could cut wait time for customers in half.

Acting Chief Water Quality Officer Gina Cyprych said testing currently takes about five weeks: eight to ten business days for delivery and pickup of the testing kit and three weeks for the lab to analyze the samples. The new system should take closer to two-and-a-half weeks, but Cyprich said both time frames are “optimistic.”

The residents of Flint, Mich., received some welcome news this week: Researchers released the results of a new round of water tests, showing lead levels in that city's water system falling just below the Environmental Protection Agency action level.

Too many water samples above that level is a red flag for utilities, a sign that they may have a broader lead problem.

Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards, who leads the team documenting Flint's water problems, called the new results the "beginning of the end," a turning point in the city's saga with corrosive water.

On Sunday, the city of Flint, Mich., will no longer be under a federal state of emergency. A new report suggests that lead levels in the city's water are dropping, though researchers still recommend caution because of the health dangers posed by even small amounts of lead.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials said Friday they’re working out the kinks causing inaccurate water bills for roughly 30,000 residents. 

Residents said they’ve received inaccurate or late bills for months.

Jackie / Flickr

A federal grant will give $3.4 million to help Allegheny County residents remove lead from their homes.

It's part of $46.5 million being doled out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development aimed at reducing lead exposure in more than 3,000 homes, 200 of which are in Allegheny County.  

Oregon Dept. of Transportation / Flickr

Water used for drinking and preparing food at Pittsburgh Public Schools is now being tested for lead.

The Allegheny County Health Department will work with Pittsburgh Public Schools and local water authorities to pinpoint and shut-off dangerous outlets throughout the 70 district facilities. All testing will take place this summer.

Even though there is no federal or state law requiring drinking water to be tested for lead, Pittsburgh Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Ronald Joseph said district officials want to take a proactive approach.

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