Attorney General sues Pgh. Water Authority over lead concerns


Eva Koumoundouros

Attorney General Josh Shapiro is looking into Pittsburgh’s water safety.

Marissa Pekular, West Hills Staff

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed 161 criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) on Friday, Feb. 1. The agency failed to notify residents after they replaced lead waterlines, creating confusion and potential health risks for the affected homes. They also did not sample the water lines within the required 72-hour time frame which is mandatory under state law.

Shapiro represented the affected Pittsburgh residents, seeking justice on their behalf. The Attorney General’s team began an official criminal investigation. He charged the PWSA with several violations of the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Act. These charges are third-degree misdemeanors, meaning the accused are punishable with jail time.

Shapiro stated at a press conference in Lawrenceville, “The Water & Sewer Authority knew it was required to notify residents of its plans to replace service lines, and it knew it was required to sample the lines for lead content – yet it failed to do so. That makes PWSA criminally liable under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

The 161 charges coincide with the 161 households that were affected throughout the Pittsburgh area. However, Shapiro confirmed that his office was not concerned with any individual employee at the Authority. The charges are being filed against the PWSA alone.

“Those failures are criminal violations. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clear air and pure water. I’m here to defend that,” stated the Attorney General.

In 2016, the PWSA conducted lead level tests in its water systems. The results showed that the lead levels exceeded the amount allowed by Pennsylvania state law. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) required the PWSA to replace seven percent of their pipelines. They estimated that by the summer of 2017 they would have needed to replace 1,341 lead lines. However, by June 30, only 415 lines were replaced.

The PWSA admitted that they failed to provide residents with a required notice before they started construction on the pipelines. As a result, more than 100 Pittsburgh homes were affected by contaminated water. They also acknowledged their failure to collect the water samples from those same residences to ensure the cleanliness of the drinking water.

With that in mind, the PWSA still denounced Shapiro’s actions, saying it was “deeply disappointed.” They ensured that they resolved many of these issues with the DEP. “We self-reported the issues to DEP, agreed to a civil penalty of $2.4 million, and have since established one of the most comprehensive lead service line replacement programs in the nation,” announced the PWSA.

If the Authority is found guilty of these criminal charges, Shapiro has created an agenda regarding whatever fines the PWSA is required to pay. Shapiro ensured the money would profit DEP programs to protect public health and safety.

“This money isn’t going to a fund in Harrisburg – it’s coming back here to neighborhoods like Lawrenceville that were affected by these violations,” Shapiro said. “I hope that, with these charges, we can shine a light on these violations and force the necessary reforms to take shape to keep Pittsburgh’s drinking water safe.”