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DEP Agreement with PWSA Could Allow $1.8 Million Investment in Lead Line Replacement

11/17/2017

Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) have entered into a Consent Order and Agreement (COA) including a $2.4 million civil penalty assessment for violations related to lead level exceedances, partial lead service line replacements, and unauthorized changes to its water treatment. Up to $1.8 million of the agreed penalty may go towards community improvements, which could include replacing customers’ lead service lines.  

“DEP is committed to ensuring that consumers have drinking water that conforms to all state and federal standards, but we’ve also placed a priority on long-term improvements to PWSA’s system and assistance to homeowners,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “PWSA’s repeated violations of state and federal drinking water regulations have eroded public trust, and with this agreement and penalty, we want to start restoring that faith.”

This COA directs PWSA to take specific actions, provides deadlines for those actions, and assesses penalties. With respect to any future partial lead service line replacements, the COA requires PWSA to take extra measures to notify residents and conduct sampling if it performs a partial line replacement.

Through this COA, DEP ordered and PWSA agreed to:

•    Notify every owner, resident, and tenant and conduct follow-up testing of the structure when a partial lead line replacement occurs. Provide additional advanced notice prior to the start of any non-emergency partial line replacements and provide water filters and replacement cartridges for at least six months;
•    Submit an interim report to DEP by December 31, 2017 and a final report by March 31, 2018 on the results of the corrosion control feasibility study;
•    Undertake continuous efforts to confirm the composition of service lines throughout its water system with updated reports to DEP over a period of several years;
•    Replace at least 1,341 lead service lines by June 30, 2018 and conduct additional line replacements annually until PWSA’s water meets the requirement for lead; and
•    Report to DEP information on public notices, public education, and compliance every three months.

The agreement includes a $2.4 million civil penalty assessment, of which $1.8 million may go toward a community environmental project. PWSA is required to submit a detailed proposal for a project, administered by a third party, to provide grant money or low interest loans to low income homeowners for the replacement of private lead lines. Any funds that have not been used for this purpose in three years must be paid to DEP as a civil penalty assessment.

“Typically, a community environmental project accounts for not more than half of a penalty assessment, but we felt that this situation warranted a much more robust effort to assist homeowners, upgrade the system, and restore public trust in the water that flows from their faucets,” said DEP Acting Southwest Regional Director Ron Schwartz.

PWSA’s system provides drinking water to approximately 520,000 people in the Pittsburgh area including 250,000 residential customers.

In addition to disinfecting water for public consumption, water systems like PWSA must use a specific formula of chemicals designed and approved for their individual system to control corrosion in the water pipes to provide optimal protection against the leaching of lead and copper into the water. DEP requires studies and permits prior to the use or alteration of any treatment chemicals by a public water supplier.

In April 2014, PWSA substantially modified its corrosion control treatment by substituting caustic soda for the permitted control, soda ash, without notifying DEP or obtaining the required permit amendments. In 2016, PWSA announced that it had switched back to soda ash for corrosion control.

On April 25, 2016, DEP issued an Administrative Order directing PWSA to investigate lead levels within its system, evaluate the impacts from the change in corrosion control treatment, provide information on its actions to consumers, conduct a feasibility study for optimization of corrosion control treatment, and submit a final report to DEP.

Additionally, PWSA exceeded the regulatory action level for lead during its required monitoring in 2016. These exceedances required PWSA to conduct a materials evaluation to determine the number of lead service lines in the system and to replace a certain percentage of those lines within a year. PWSA did not submit the proper materials evaluation of the system and instead submitted a “lead service line inventory estimate” of 19,152 lead lines out of the system’s approximately 80,000 active service lines. Based on PWSA’s estimate, the Authority was required to replace at least 1,341 lead service lines by June 30, 2017, but PWSA only replaced 415 lead service lines, or approximately 31 percent of what was required.

In 2016 and 2017, when PWSA performed non-emergency partial lead service line replacements, it failed to provide 45 days notice for 60 residences, and failed to collect water samples within 72 hours of partial line replacement for 149 residences.  Partial line replacements can temporarily increase lead levels in the water, and PWSA will be required to take extensive measures to protect the public whenever PWSA conducts a partial line replacement rather than a full line replacement.

PWSA will continue to offer free lead test kits to its customers. DEP reminds consumers of the following ways to reduce lead exposure in drinking water:

•    Flush taps by running cold water for at least one minute prior to drinking or using for cooking
•    Use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing food or baby formula.
•    Use a water filter that is NSF-certified to remove lead.
•    Contact PWSA if you plan to replace your side of the lead service line for coordination of replacement of the PWSA portion.

For more information, including past enforcement actions, visit DEP’s Southwest Region community page here


MEDIA CONTACT: Lauren Fraley, 412-442-4203
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