The latest on Pittsburgh's lead crisis.

The results are in: Lead levels in city drinking water have exceeded a federal limit.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] conducted required lead and copper compliance testing and discovered that 17 of its 100 water samples had lead levels greater than 15 parts per billion [ppb], the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] threshold for action.

PWSA’s 90th percentile result was 22 ppb — this figure will be reported to the EPA and used in annual reports.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP]:

An action level exceedance is not a violation but triggers other requirements that include water quality parameter monitoring, corrosion control treatment, source water monitoring, public education and lead service line replacement.

The 100 water samples PWSA collected are supposed to come from “tier 1” homes, considered to be at high risk for lead service lines and plumbing. PWSA does not currently have records for all lead service lines, so this process can be hit or miss. Homes that do have lead plumbing are most susceptible because as the pipes wear, lead can seep into the water supply.

For this reason, testing methods have been faulty in many major U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh. From PublicSource:

Water officials are supposed to only test homes at a high-risk for lead, but in Pittsburgh 50 percent of the homes tested in 1991 were high-risk homes and 80 percent in 2013 were high-risk.

As PublicSource previously reported, Allegheny County did not ban lead pipes until 1969. In Pittsburgh, 83 percent of homes were built before 1970, leaving many homes vulnerable to corroding lead pipes.

Since 1999 — when PWSA’s lead was 2 ppb — the levels have been rising. In 2013, the lead level hovered at 14.8 ppb, just below the EPA’s line for major corrective action.

In a release, David Donahoe, interim executive director of PWSA, cited National Resources Defense Council’s analysis of EPA lead data. The report states that 5,300 water providers across the country are currently out of compliance with the lead and copper rule.

Donahoe said the potential for exceeding the EPA’s action level was “not unexpected.”

Lead, a colorless, odorless neurotoxin, can have lifelong effects in children. It slows brain development and can lead to a lower IQ.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a proposed bill that would mandate all children under age 6 to be tested for lead.

Karen Hacker, director of Allegheny County Health Department, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that even if the bill dies at the state level, she wants the county to consider its own program.

In the meantime, the PWSA must develop public education materials and implement a public education program by Sept. 1, 2016. It must also develop a complete listing of all lead service lines and begin a replacement program that targets at least 7 percent of affected homes per year.

The DEP requires that the PWSA complete a second round of monitoring by Dec. 31, 2016.

The PWSA offers customers free lead testing kits. To order a free lead test kit, call 412-782-7552 or 412-782-7554 between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m Monday through Friday.

Reach Courtney Linder at Follow her on Twitter @CNL_13.

This fact-based local reporting drives impact and creates change. Help power that impact.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” PublicSource exists to help the Pittsburgh region face its realities and create opportunities for change. When we shine a light on inequity in our region, like the “completely unacceptable” conditions in low-income housing in McKeesport, things change. When we ask questions about policymakers’ decisions, like how Allegheny County is handling COVID-19 safety for its employees, things change. When we push for transparency on issues that affect the public, like in the use of facial recognition software by Pittsburgh police, things change.

It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to produce journalism like this. Our stories are always made available for free so that they can benefit the most people, regardless of ability to pay. But as an independent, nonprofit newsroom, we count on donations from our readers to support this crucial work. Can you make a contribution of any amount (or better yet, set up a recurring monthly gift) to help ensure we can continue to report on what matters and tell stories for a better Pittsburgh?