Pittsburgh water quality causes distress

A+CCAC+North+student+fills+her+waterbottle+on+campus.+Recent+analyses+show+higher+levels+of+lead+exposure.

Jennifer Groll

A CCAC North student fills her waterbottle on campus. Recent analyses show higher levels of lead exposure.

Ivan Weis-Palacios, North Campus Editor

Experts say that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Any amount of lead in the blood carries a risk to developmental and intellectual function. Approximately 2.6% of preschool children contain lead in their blood at or greater than 50 parts per billion. With that level of exposure, those children can expect lower IQ and reproductive issues.

Since the summer of 2016, Pittsburgh water has lead levels that exceed the federal lead threshold. In fact, Pittsburgh’s lead threshold has increased since that summer. Because Pittsburgh’s water exceeds the federal guidelines, it must replace 7% of its lead lines every year.

That comes to replacing around 1,340 lead lines a year. But in its first year, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) only replaced 415. In total, the PWSA has only replaced about 725 out of its estimated 17,750 total lead lines.

If you think Pittsburgh’s lead contamination is a serious issue, you don’t stand alone.

Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech water quality expert who helped to expose the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, MI says the following, “Scientifically, you just cannot have these elevated levels of lead in water without significantly contributing to the blood lead burden of pregnant women and children of all ages.”

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner added the following, “There’s no reason the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry that apply elsewhere in the world do not apply here in Pittsburgh as well. Your blood lead is going to rise.”

These experts agree that Pittsburgh’s lead level is a dire issue. But the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHP) seems to not take things as seriously.

It said that “water has never been found to be the primary source of lead exposure” for children. The ACHP and government agencies around the country have instead been focusing on lead dust caused by lead-based paint.

While decreasing lead from all sources is important, it seems odd to be ignoring water-based lead in favor of eliminating only paint-based lead. The claim that water isn’t the primary source of lead exposure doesn’t hold water under close examination.

Paul Schwartz, the DC director of Water Alliance, says the following, “According to USEPA a developing fetus or a bottle fed baby gets about 90% of their lead from water. For all kids under six years of age, the contribution of water to lead in our children is estimated to between 10% and 40%.”

The issue of lead poisoning has a long history in the US, as it was the only developed nation to delay its own efforts to eliminate lead as a consumer product. This problem won’t be easy or quick to fix, but we cannot afford the cost of an entire generation that has been developmentally stifled by lead poisoning.