Rev. Welch warned PWSA about risks

Sometimes, it pays to listen to people who have practical experience in a given field—even when they are political opponents.

During his mayoral campaign against Mayor Bill Peduto, Rev. John Welch—who in earlier life had earned an environmental engineering degree—warned that the city’s plan to reduce unsafe lead levels in the water supply was flawed and could make the problem worse.

On June 2, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced it was halting its partial line replacement project after it had found even higher lead levels in residential tests done after it had replaced the public supply lines that connect to the property owners’ supply lines.

“The PWSA has followed requirements to replace lead lines, but the matter is threatening to become dangerous to our residents,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in an accompanying press announcement. “We need to halt this replacement program until we have an understanding with the PADEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) on how to properly and safely address this problem.”

Welch had urged installing point-of-entry (POE) filter systems at all affected buildings. While expensive, they would cost roughly a quarter of the $400 million needed to complete the partial line replacement program the city approved after meeting with the state DEP.

“During my mayoral campaign, I consistently challenged PWSA’s strategy regarding partial replacement of the service lines. However, my position was not taken seriously by the Peduto Administration nor PWSA. Now, they realize the risks of the partial replacement strategy,” Welch said in a June 5 statement, addressed to the Courier.

“The EPA-approved solution suggested during my candidacy was to install POE units in PWSA customer homes at an expense far less than the cost of replacing the service lines. This would have protected the homeowners from elevated lead levels once line replacements occurred. This administration instead chose to offer free water pitchers, which is an ineffective and negligent strategy.”

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