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PWSA constructing orthophosphate facility to reduce lead levels in water


February 19, 2019

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) broke ground on a new facility in Highland Park that will help to reduce lead levels in our drinking water.

The new orthophosphate facility is in the Sycamore Grove picnic area across the street from PWSA’s microfiltration drinking water treatment plant along Reservoir Drive. Construction crews are building the foundation and will install the underground vault needed to connect the facility to the drinking water distribution system.

“Constructing this facility and adding orthophosphate to our water system will reduce lead levels across our water system,” stated Robert Weimar, PWSA executive director. “Even though we’re aggressively replacing thousands of lead lines, it will take years to replace all of them. In the immediate term, we will begin applying orthophosphate to address high lead levels by using this effective and widely-accepted treatment method.”

Orthophosphate is a food-grade additive used by water utilities across the country to reduce lead levels in tap water. When water with orthophosphate runs through the system, it creates a coating on the inside of lead service lines and establishes a barrier between the lead pipes and the water. This is called corrosion control and it’s an effective method recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to reduce lead.

The new facility at the Sycamore Grove will house the equipment needed to add orthophosphate to the water supply and will serve the dual purpose of providing a public amenity for park users to enjoy. PWSA collaborated with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, the Pittsburgh Arts Commission, the Highland Park Community Council, and the Highland Park Community Development Corporation on the design of the orthophosphate structure.

It meets all safety requirements as well as the design standards identified in the Highland Park Master Plan. The design received approval by the Pittsburgh Arts Commission. 

The Sycamore Grove location is one of four distribution points where PWSA will add orthophosphate to the drinking water system. The other three locations include a second location in Highland Park located at the north end of Reservoir I, inside the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant and the Bruecken Pump Station. These four locations allow for the distribution of orthophosphate throughout PWSA’s water distribution system.

Throughout construction, Reservoir Drive will remain partially closed to traffic at the two orthophosphate buildings, leaving one lane open to maintain one-way traffic along Reservoir Drive. Flaggers will be on-site to direct traffic during active construction.

PWSA plans to begin feeding orthophosphate into the distribution system by the end of March. Additional sitework and finishing the exterior of the Sycamore Grove facility will extend beyond this date. The Orthophosphate Project is a major investment in Pittsburgh’s water infrastructure that meets PWSA’s goals to provide customers with safe, reliable drinking water.

For more information about the Highland Park Orthophosphate project and other water infrastructure projects in Highland Park, visit


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