When Pittsburgh City Council introduced the bill last week, it seemed too good to be true: the city finally had a plan, in writing, for replacing lead water lines on private property. For nearly a year, debates on whether or not the local water authority could replace privately owned pipes had been at the center of the city’s lead crisis.
The state issued an order last summer for the authority to replace 7 percent of lead lines each year after test results came in above a federal safety standard for lead. But with the authority operating on the notion that it could only replace the public portion of the pipes, it made residents even more vulnerable to lead exposure. The process of partial pipe replacement can shake loose the remaining pipe’s lead, causing an increase in lead at the tap for weeks or months after construction ends.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority suspended the practice of partial line replacement earlier this month. When it announced the change, it said it had completed 49 partial pipe replacements in the one month the practice was in place. Four out of eight locations tested showed lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 15 ppb (parts per billion) after the work was done, but the agency did not release lead levels from before the replacement.
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