Clean Water Action Calls for More Protection of Kids from Lead in Pittsburgh Drinking Water

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pittsburgh – Following the release this week of the latest lead testing results of Pittsburgh drinking water by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), Clean Water Action called for strong action to protect children in Pittsburgh from lead exposure.

Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action stated, “PWSA’s latest lead test results show the strong need for immediate action by City and public health officials to ensure Pittsburgh children are protected from lead exposure. It is clear that some homes in Pittsburgh have high levels of lead in their drinking water. Given the large number of lead service lines in the City, we could be exposing a significant number of children to lead in Pittsburgh.”

PWSA’s latest round of lead testing of Pittsburgh homes found 17% of homes had lead levels over 15 ppb (parts per billion), trigging EPA’s action level for lead.  Once 10% of homes in a drinking water system exceed 15 ppb of lead, the water authority must take steps to reduce lead exposures.  Pittsburgh homes had lead levels as high as 75 ppb.

Clean Water Action outlined several steps for immediate action:

  1. There needs to be an investigation into the cause of the rising proportion of homes testing high for lead. Since 2007, the percentage of homes in Pittsburgh exceeding 15 ppb has increased by over four times. Is this a result of changes in sampling locations or simply due to aging infrastructure? Or are there new contaminants in the Allegheny River that are causing our water supply to be more corrosive, resulting in increased lead eroding from pipes?
  2. PWSA and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) should work together to ensure that all homes in Pittsburgh that have lead service lines are offered water tests for lead, and that all children in these homes are offered lead blood screenings.
  3. City and County officials need to work with PWSA on expanding efforts to accelerate replacement of lead service lines.  While PWSA has started this work, most lead service lines are not owned by PWSA. In many cases homeowners are responsible for the lead service lines and replacement is beyond their financial means. The public deserves a plan for how we will replace all lead services lines, starting with the most at risk residents.

Arnowitt continued, “As a parent myself of a 3 year old, I see our top priority is to make sure kids at risk of lead exposure in Pittsburgh are being screened for lead. After that we need to figure out why the numbers keep going up in tap water sampling. We need to look closely at how gas drilling in our region, or other industries, could be affecting our water. This is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed before more children are harmed.”

Lead exposure has long been known to have neurotoxic effects on humans, especially on children’s developing brains.  Children exposed to lead can have developmental disorders, including lowered IQs and increased aggressive or violent behaviors.


Clean Water Action has more than 100,000 members statewide in Pennsylvania and is the nation's largest grassroots group focused on water, energy and environmental health.  Clean Water Action's 1 million members nationally work for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, and creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses. Clean Water Action's nonpartisan campaigns empower people to make democracy work.


Myron Arnowitt