Pittsburgh, PA— Pittsburgh’s lead water pipes will be removed by 2026 under an agreement finalized with community groups concerned about the city’s chronically-high levels of lead in its drinking water. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved the settlement, which requires the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) to create a plan to replace thousands of lead lines currently carrying drinking water to city residents.
Pittsburgh United, a coalition of labor, faith, and environmental groups that convenes the Our Water Campaign, negotiated the settlement with several other organizations, represented by lawyers from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project.
Said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, Executive Director of Pittsburgh United: “Safe water is a right, not a luxury. Although work remains to be done to ensure all customers have access to safe and affordable service, this settlement puts PWSA on a path to replacing all residential lead service lines. Aspects of the program can provide a model for other utilities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, such as offering free lead service line replacements whenever PWSA replaces a portion of the line and prioritizing vulnerable neighborhoods for replacements.”
“There is no safe level of lead exposure, and lead lines have no place in our water infrastructure. The aggressive steps to get the lead out of Pittsburgh outlined in the settlement approved today are necessary to protect the health of children and families. The burdens of lead-contaminated water fall most heavily on low-income families and communities of color, which is why it is so important to prioritize lead service line replacements in those neighborhoods where residents are at greatest risk. This settlement is a testament to the tireless advocacy of Pittsburgh United and the Our Water Campaign for safe and affordable water,” said Pete DeMarco, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Now, more than ever, it is critical that we focus on ensuring that all households have access to safe and affordable water services in their home,” said Elizabeth Marx, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project. “This settlement is big step forward to ensure that marginalized communities have safe drinking water in their home. We will continue to work diligently to ensure that service also remains affordable to Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable populations -- now and in the future.”
Under the settlement adopted today, PWSA must:
- Create a plan to replace lead service lines by no later than 2026, or the earliest date feasible (with exceptions for lines that are not operationally feasible to replace or where customers do not consent to the replacement);
- Prioritize lead service line replacements in neighborhoods with residents that have a higher risk of lead exposure;
- Consult with a Community Lead Response Advisory Committee on all aspects of its lead-remediation efforts;
- Expand its free tap-water filter program to include:
- low-income renters whose homes may have lead service lines;
- homes with lead service lines where PWSA replaces a water meter;
- any customer whose tap water contains more than 10 parts per billion of lead;
- Continue to offer to replace the entire lead service line for free whenever it replaces a portion of a residential lead line;
- Limit the circumstances under which PWSA performs dangerous partial lead service line replacements.
Pittsburgh has had lead contamination issues since at least 2016. Lead levels in communities served by PWSA have exceeded the federal action level for 5 of the last 8 testing periods (though not during the most recent testing period), indicating that PWSA must take more aggressive steps to address chronically high lead in drinking water.
Kennedy said, “During this global pandemic more than ever, it’s critical that PWSA provide safe drinking water to all city residents, that residents in Pittsburgh continue to have significant say over how ratepayer dollars are spent, and that we do everything we can to take care of the most vulnerable people in our communities. It’s time to rewrite the rules and take care of everyone – no exceptions.”
- Joint Petition for Partial Settlement: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/joint-petition-partial-settlement-20190913.pdf
- Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Final Order: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/puc-final-order-20200326.pdf
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.