"Here in Pittsburgh when testing was done in schools last year, 140 water fixtures were found to have lead levels above 20 parts per billion, which is particularly troubling when no level of lead is safe," says Stephen Riccardi, a field associate with PennEnvironment.
Since the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
detected high lead levels
in the city's drinking water, the authority and local officials have been working on plans to replace lead service lines in the city's water system, but experts predict replacement will take several years. That's why, this week, Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross called on city stakeholders to work together to provide water filters to all homes with children under 8-years-old, Pittsburgh schools and other childcare facilities.
"We have a long term infrastructure project in front of us," Gross said at a press conference on Feb. 28. "We are currently trying to locate the lead service lines in each and every home in the city and it is our job to find out which homes have lead so we can begin immediate remediation."
Unfortunately, young children are particularly vulnerable to lead. According to the World Health Organization, children exposed to high lead levels experience long-term negative health affects such as behavioral problems and difficulty concentrating.
"Lead exposure continues to be a serious and stubborn public health concern confronting kids, especially in south western Pennsylvania," Ned Ketyer, a local pediatrician said at the press conference. "In infants and children, lead is attracted to rapidly growing organs, especially the brain. It is there in the brain that lead, a natural heavy metal does it's most unnatural damage."
In order to address the issue Gross is looking for partners and donors to supply tabletop water filters to 25,000 households in the city. She says the problem could be addressed for $500,000 and will be asking city council to provide seed money for the project.
When contacted by Pittsburgh City Paper
PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering said "PWSA and its Board of Directors are actively exploring all options for developing a drinking water filter program."
Gross said she would be willing to help the Pittsburgh Public School District secure water filters for their facilities, but did not want to speak for the district about how to address the issue in schools. Meanwhile, Pa. Sen. Wayne Fontana is co-sponsoring legislation that would require annual mandatory lead testing in schools across the state prior to of each school year.
"We must do everything we can to reduce the public's exposure to lead," Fontana said at the press conference.
In an analysis released this week, the PennEnvironment Policy and Research Center gave Pennsylvania an F grade for what they see as a failure to protect children from lead in drinking water in schools. According to the organization, Pennsylvania has "no required testing regimen for school drinking water, no limits on the allowable lead levels and no plan to remove lead infrastructure from our schools."