11 Investigates: New PWSA plant filter cause of brown water, rising lead levels' cause undetermined

PITTSBURGH — Brown water and rising lead levels have had residents across the Pittsburgh area concerned, but the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has found what’s been turning water brown for some residents.

PWSA has determined that a new filter in the Aspinwall plant is the cause of brown water coming out of residents’ faucets in some Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

The interim director at PWSA, David Donahoe, said the new filters at Aspinwall were not removing a naturally occurring element in the Allegheny River, manganese, from the water. PWSA gets its water from the river.

Extra chlorine has been added to the water and is being flushed through the system to remove the manganese.

“We’ll continue to provide this excess chlorine right away. That, we hope, at least it’s proven so far, will be successful,” Donahoe said.

Donahoe told 11 Investigates’ Aaron Martin that the water in Pittsburgh was safe to drink.

“It will take several weeks before this water that is now clear moves through the system,” Donahoe said.

In April, the utility was cited for violating safe drinking water standards when it switched chemicals to treat lead due to cost and equipment issues without informing the Department of Environmental Protection.

The switch in chemicals had residents questioning if that was the cause of rising lead levels.

“There’s no way that anyone has been able to prove to me that this switch in chemicals caused the increase. The increase was happening all along, even when the former chemical was used,” Donahoe said.

Donahoe contends that the cause of the rising lead levels is pipes made of lead scattered throughout the city -- a responsibility that falls on homeowners and the PWSA.

Eleven Investigates found that some of those lead pipes were being replaced in Lawrenceville Friday.

Any comparison made to the Flint, Michigan lead crisis is a comparison of night and day said Donahoe.

“We are on a path to deal with this situation openly and candidly with the public. I think that is just completely different than the situation that existed in Flint,” Donahoe said.

After the latest round of testing, homes scattered across the city were found to have unsafe lead levels in the water. The PWSA is contacting those customers to discuss options in replacing service lines to make water safe to drink.