As water bills rise, PWSA ramps up efforts to help low-income customers

The average customer in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] service area spent about 2.7% of their income on water and sewage. The Environmental Protection Agency considers water and sewage bills above 4.5% to be unaffordable. But in a third of the city’s neighborhoods, at least one in every five customers was spending 10% or more of their income on water and sewage, according to PWSA’s own affordability study in 2019.

How worried should Allegheny County residents be about the Delta variant?

The Delta variant is a strain of COVID-19 that was first detected in India, where it quickly became the dominant strain. It has been identified in 85 countries and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations. Between May 8 and June 5, the Delta variant jumped from representing 1.3% of new cases in the United States to 10%. It now accounts for more than half of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide. Not only is this strain more contagious, doctors are reporting that it causes more severe illness and a faster onset of serious symptoms.

Overall COVID cases in Allegheny County remain low, largely showing the success of vaccination efforts.

Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

A thousand little cuts: Locals say a fire on Neville Island shows the pollution didn’t stop after Shenango Coke Works closed

This story was produced in partnership with Gazette 2.0, a hyperlocal startup delivering impactful news to the western suburbs of Pittsburgh in print and online at gazette20.com. Kristine Pace was packing a bag to care for her injured father on April 14 when she smelled burning plastic and began frantically searching her Emsworth home to see what had caught fire. 

Melanie Holcomb was walking her dogs nearby when she noticed a stench so intense that she saw a driver pull over to see if the engine had caught fire. Neighbors wandered onto their porches. When a cloud of black smoke drifted across the Ohio River and into view, Holcomb said, she hurried home. A large industrial fire had erupted at Metalico, a metal recycling facility on Neville Island.

Betty Foster-Pinkley stands in front of a rain garden that Upstream, an environmental nonprofit, installed in her backyard. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/PublicSource)

Some Pittsburgh environmental groups are trying to undo a legacy of neglect by prioritizing projects in underserved communities

When Betty Foster-Pinkley’s mom passed away in 2010, she took over responsibility for the family house in the East Hills. 

The house she and her six siblings grew up in is at the very bottom of Dornbush Street. With a slope of 32%, Dornbush is the second steepest street in Pittsburgh and the eighth steepest in the entire country. During Pittsburgh’s record rainfalls in 2018 and 2019, rainwater flooded Foster-Pinkley’s basement. Her water heater, furnace, air conditioners and some mementos from her children and grandchildren were damaged. She had to pay about $3,000 for replacements and repairs out of her own pocket because it was a natural flood, not a broken pipe that her home insurance would cover. 

The flooding was so bad, she said, it flooded a nearby apartment building and knocked over a wall.

Q&A: Overdoses are peaking again and opioids are only going to get cheaper, one expert explains

Early data from Overdose Free PA confirms that 2020 will be at least the second most deadly year for overdose deaths in Allegheny County ever. There are already 687 confirmed deaths, at least an 18% increase from the year before, and the second year of increased overdose deaths in a row. It takes months to confirm overdose deaths so these numbers are likely to increase. Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, has become one of the country’s leading experts on the economics of the opioid epidemic. In a paper published in February, Caulkins argues that the price of opioids is likely to keep dropping because of how fentanyl is produced.