DEP says PWSA must retest water for lead this summer

PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official confirmed Thursday that the department is keeping a close watch on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the DEP is ordering the PWSA to conduct another round of lead testing this summer.

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Additionally, the PWSA must map its entire system to determine where lead pipes are located. The mapping is a major undertaking for the utility, since PWSA officials have said that many older records are useless.

"They're going to be required to replace on an ongoing basis these lines, so obviously as a starting point they need to know where those lines are,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said the DEP has “been a lot more involved in PWSA” after becoming aware of the corrosion and lead levels.

He noted that the DEP is investigating the PWSA because the utility switched the chemicals it used to treat water. The PWSA did not inform the state about the change, and the utility later switched the chemicals back.

When Channel 11 News asked McDonnell if it was a concern when a change like that is made without the DEP being notified, McDonnell replied: “Absolutely, absolutely.”

McDonnell added that it’s unclear whether the chemical change caused the unsafe levels of lead found during tests earlier this summer,

"One of the things we don't do in the drinking water program is experiment on residents, experiment on people. This was uncontrolled in that way,” McDonnell said of the chemical change.

A spokesman for the PWSA said the utility has been open and transparent with its customers about its testing and procedures.

McDonnell said he believes that the PWSA’s water is safe to drink, and many of the issues can be solved if customers run their taps for 30 seconds before drinking the water.

Stay with Channel 11 News and WPXI.com for continuing coverage. 

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