South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

PWSA preparing to expand its lead line replacement on Mount

 

The Mount Washington Community Development Corporation kicked off its May public forum will a presentation from Daniel Duffy and Rachael Rampa concerning the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's (PWSA) Lead Service Line Replacement Program.

Mr. Duffy explained the program started last year as a result of the water system exceeding overall lead levels throughout the service area. Once that happened, it triggered a requirement from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to replace a certain number of lead lines on an annual basis until the lead levels in the system were below limits.

The service line runs from the water main to the meter inside the house. In many older homes in older neighborhoods the service line is made of lead.

The service line consists of two portions: the public side and the private side. The public side is from the water main to the curb stop where there is a shut-off valve. The private side is from the curb stop to the water meter generally inside the home.

"(Lead) is a really great material, it lasts almost forever, but it presents health risks when the lead is allowed to leech out of the pipes into the drinking water," Mr. Duffy said.

Last year when the lead line replacement program began, the PWSA only had the legal authority to work on replacing the public portion of the service line, from the water main to the curb stop. What they found was when there was a partial replacement of only the public portion of the service line it created a temporary spike in lead levels in the home.

This was due to disturbing sentiment in the portion of the line that wasn't replace, Mr. Duffy explained. Materials inside the pipe were being knocked loose and were entering the home's water system.

The program was stopped last year until the PWSA was able to go to the State Legislature and were able to receive permission to work on private property in March of this year, he said.

In the programs current form, at least for 2018, PWSA is able to replace the entire service line, from the water main to the water meter, at no cost to the home owner.

"With the exception of, we will install the pipe and back fill a trench if we need to trench it, but if there's any restoration costs associated with seeding a lawn area or landscaping we might go through or retaining walls, that's something the homeowner needs to take care of," Mr. Duffy said.

PWSA started working in Mt. Washington in March. So far, he said, the contractor has been able to do an effective job of using "trenchless technology" to replace the service lines. Trenchless replacement generally involves a smaller hole at the curb and another at the foundation.

The contractor then threads a cable through the lead service line and pulls out the old pipe while pulling a new copper pipe along behind it. The process does require loosening the old lead pipe from the home's foundation first.

The first Mt. Washington work area has been completed and a second has already begun. In addition, there are three more areas in the neighborhood slated to begin shortly.

While the PWSA has legislative permission to work on private property, they still need the homeowner's permission to perform the line replacement.

"We don't have the right to just go in and do the work. We need you to agree to allow us to do that," Mr. Duffy said.

About 45 days before they anticipate beginning work in an area, PWSA sends out a package with information detailing the work and an agreement the homeowner is asked to sign and return giving approval to do the work.

Once the agreement is signed, the PWSA and contractor will arrange to meet with the homeowner, describe the work that will be done and explain any restoration work that may be the owner's responsibility. At that time, even if the owner has signed the agreement, they may decide not to have the work completed.

Mr. Duffy said they are encouraging homeowners to have the work completed not only for the long-range health benefit, but also because it may have the effect of raising the property value.

In the first Mt. Washington area, around Natchez Street, about 90 percent of the people agreed to have their lead service line replaced.

He said they are "struggling" to get people in other work areas to return their agreements. So far only 45 to 55 percent have returned them.

Asked what the outreach is to notify homeowners of their eligibility to participate in the program, Ms. Rampa said 10 days after the packet is sent, a robo-call is made followed by another robo-call ten days later. Finally, a door-hanger with program and contact information is placed at the house.

"If we don't get any response, we'll do what's called a 'partial,' which is just the public portion," Mr. Duffy said.

He added there are public liaisons out in the neighborhood knocking on doors to see if they can catch someone at home who hasn't replied.

Another question had to do with how the area for the service line replacement program was determined along with where the address cutoff was in each area.

Mr. Duffy said they worked with the Allegheny County Health Department to determine the areas where the greatest number of children under six years old, the most sensitive population, lived. Another measure was the lead levels in children from those areas.

PWSA will be replacing about 2,100 lead service lines this year throughout the city under the program.

Mr. Duffy was questioned whether there is assistance who are not in one of the target areas to replace the private side of the service line. He replied the PWSA is developing guidelines for an income-based program to assist homeowners, but it hasn't been finalized yet.

He urged anyone with questions to contact the PWSA Lead Help Desk at 412-255-5987 or LeadHelp@pgh2o.com.

 

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