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PWSA halts replacement of water lines after finding lead levels increasing

The plan to replace water lines in order to reduce lead levels in the water isn't working, and is actually making the lead worse. Because of that, the work has stopped.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has faced repeated criticism for its handling of rising levels of lead in the drinking water.

Now, the utility will temporarily stop all partial lead line replacements in the city.


The controversial program to do partial replacements of lead service lines began last month.

Eight homes with private lead lines submitted water tests, with half of those showing elevated levels of lead.

Major changes are expected in the near future after these partial repairs were not working. In fact, they were making the lead in the water worse. Local officials tell Channel 11 these changes are welcome and necessary.

"When you replace only half the line, you make the problem far worse in terms of lead exposure," said Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County Controller. She tells Channel 11 the program was dangerous from the beginning and was essentially doubling the work load. She says everyone from the EPA to the CDC realized those risks, and Friday's move from the PWSA was a small step in the right direction.

"They had to acknowledge that this could cause litigation in the future and damage beyond the threat that we already have for children's lives."

She admits the process will be tedious.


Utility officials say this is a move made out of an abundance of caution and they will continue removing lead lines when they can establish a safe way to do so. The next step is for the PWSA to implement a program that will fully replace the entire line.

Wagner says that will be most effective for the benefit of everyone in Pittsburgh. "This is a crisis and we all need to recognize that this is a crisis, and people need to take precautions and people need to be filtering their water."

The cost to make full-scale repairs on private and public lines will be upwards of $400 million. PWSA is in debt now.

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