11 Investigates: Data shows water in certain Pittsburgh neighborhoods tested more often than others

PITTSBURGH — Following

in which Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and Allegheny County Health Department Dr. Karen Hacker disagreed over concerns about lead levels in public water, 11 Investigates’ Aaron Martin took a closer look at where the majority of lead exposure testing is being conducted.

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Martin found that the issue isn’t just the results but also who is getting tested.

11 Investigates dug into data about lead testing in water and found certain Pittsburgh neighborhoods are tested for lead and copper exposure in the water more frequently than others.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority provided 95 zip codes in which homes were tested for lead this summer. Of those, 24 were in and around Squirrel Hill, with another 11 in East Liberty and Highland Park.

Fewer than five tests were done in Homewood and the Hill District combined.

"We can't make customers participate in the study. That doesn't really help us get the whole demographic of the city,” PWSA Acting Chief of Water Quality Gina Cyprych said.

Cyprych told Martin that lead service lines are tested throughout the city, but testing in the most vulnerable homes is only done for those who respond to a letter sent to them by the PWSA, volunteering to have their water checked. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates that testing only be done at homes where the homeowner has given content to do so.

Cyprych said the problem likely can’t be solved without an understanding of how widespread the issue is.

“You really do need to understand how big the problem is. That's one of the things we're continuing to work on,” she said.

It's an unacceptable answer for community activist Rashad Byrdsong, of the Community Empowerment Association.

"There's a host of social issues impacting our community. I don't think a letter is at the top of the list,” he said.

Byrdsong said he has spent more than three decades pushing for equality in low-income neighborhoods. He suggests using community groups to help find those at the greatest risk to lead exposure and getting tests to their neighborhoods.

"When it comes down to your children's health, it's not about volunteering. There needs to be an organized, comprehensive strategy,” Byrdsong said.

PWSA officials said they’re hopeful that EPA regulations will change, allowing them to test the drinking water in homes beyond those who volunteer.

To view the PWSA’s lead test results from this summer,