Pittsburgh, PA - Due to elevated levels of lead found in some homes with lead service lines or plumbing, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) conducted a comprehensive and industry-leading study to determine if the existing corrosion control treatment methods could be improved. The study, which used lead and copper “pipe loops” to test the effectiveness of several different additives, proved adding orthophosphate to treated drinking water is the best approach to reducing corrosion from lead and copper pipes. Orthophosphate is used by many water utilities across the country to reduce and control lead levels.
On March 30, 2018, PWSA submitted a final version of the pipe loop study to drinking water regulators at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This month, DEP approved the study’s recommendation to change PWSA’s corrosion control treatment to include orthophosphate. However, more steps are required before orthophosphate is applied.
Adding orthophosphate to treated drinking water requires installing additional equipment and facilities that must also be approved by DEP. On May 10, PWSA submitted an additional application to DEP for approval to proceed with construction of these items. The application details PWSA’s plan to construct four facilities that will add orthophosphate: one at the Bruecken Pump Station, one at the Aspinwall Pump Station and two facilities near the Highland 1 reservoir. The Authority anticipates a response to the application from DEP in the coming weeks. PWSA’s goal is to construct the facilities and begin applying orthophosphate in late summer 2018.
"We’re happy to make progress on this essential program, but there is more work ahead to achieve our goal of applying orthophosphate by late summer,” said PWSA Executive Director Robert Weimar. “Optimizing our treatment to reduce lead levels at homes with lead service lines and plumbing is our number one priority. Our staff and the international water quality experts we’ve hired to advise us will be effectively deploying this treatment upgrade as quickly as possible.”
Altering drinking water treatment must be done methodically to ensure a safe and smooth transition. PWSA’s application to DEP includes plans to continually analyze water quality in different neighborhoods across our service area using sophisticated monitoring equipment. These devices and active monitoring from PWSA staff will ensure water quality and help determine the precise dose of orthophosphate that will be most effective at protecting customers.
The Authority will also conduct a large-scale flushing program to prepare the drinking water distribution system for the new treatment. Details of the flushing program, including the locations and potential service disruptions, will be shared with the public in the coming weeks.