Pittsburgh’s lead levels hit new lowest level in decades

Aug. 23, 2023
PWSA’s most recent round of testing produced lead levels of approximately 3.4 parts per billion, the lowest round of samples’ lead levels in over 20 years.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) announced that its most recent round of testing produced lead levels of roughly 3.4 parts per billion (ppb), well below the state and federal action level of 15 ppb.

This is PWSA’s fifth consecutive compliant round of testing. The results represent lowest round of samples’ lead levels in over 20 years.

All water samples were taken at high-risk homes with a known lead service line. PWSA said that the results indicate the continued effectiveness of adding orthophosphate to PWSA’s water treatment process.

“We are very pleased to see our lead levels throughout the service area continue to trend downwards,” said PWSA CEO Will Pickering. “Customers can be assured that we remain focused on treating our water to protect customers from exposure to lead while we maintain our programs to remove the remaining lead service lines.”

PWSA’s water came back into compliance in summer of 2020 and lead levels remained well below the U.S. EPA action level of 15 ppb since.

Since the Community Lead Response’s inception in 2016, PWSA has replaced over 10,200 public lead service lines and over 7,100 private lead service lines at no direct cost to customers, putting it over halfway toward its goal of replacing all public lead lines in the service area.

Orthophosphate for corrosion control

In April 2019, PWSA began adding orthophosphate to reduce lead levels in drinking water while continuing to replace thousands of lead service lines.

Orthophosphate is a food-grade additive that forms a protective layer inside of lead service lines, creating an anti-corrosive barrier between the lead pipes and the water flowing through them. It is approved by the EPA and successfully used in water systems across the world. Orthophosphate was selected by PWSA and approved by DEP after an extensive, year-long study of treatment alternatives.

Since PWSA came back into full compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule in July of 2020, it have been working closely with national water quality experts to further optimize the water treatment process to maintain low lead levels.

Samples are taken from around the system every week, including lead monitoring stations, hydrants, and controlled testing points. Analysts look at lead levels, as well as orthophosphate and pH levels and other markers that influence overall water quality.

2023 lead programs

Some of PWSA’s 2023 lead programs are as follows:

  • Neighborhood lead service line replacement
    Last year, the City of Pittsburgh approved and provided $17 million to PWSA from the American Rescue Plan to target lead service line replacement. Construction crews move through neighborhoods, replacing any lead service lines they discover.
    PENNVEST funding has allowed the lead service line replacements to continue, with a project to inspect the service lines at almost 1,500 locations starting this month, and funding approved for another project to work at approximately 1,200 additional locations slated for next year. This future work will be funded primarily through grants, which will not need to be paid back to PENNVEST.
  • Small diameter water main replacement
    Water main replacements continue throughout PWSA’s service area, replacing aging infrastructure and lead lines. Two contracts were announced at the May 2023 Board of Directors meeting that will replace approximately nine miles of aging water main and approximately 1,200 service lines. At any location where lead is found, it will be replaced at no cost to the customer. Work is anticipated to begin in late summer of this year.
  • Reimbursement program
    PWSA continues to assist customers with the cost of private lead service line replacement if they choose to proactively hire a plumber and complete the work. The Pgh2o Cares Team will verify income and determine the level of reimbursement provided to customers.


In addition to corrosion control optimization and lead service line replacement, PWSA provides educational tools and other resources for lead in water. PWSA has always offered its water customers free lead test kits, to learn more about water quality in the home.

Water customers can also check PWSA’s interactive lead map to see all PWSA data on lead service lines, as well as all replacement work that has taken place since its inception in 2016. The authority also provides an interactive map of all water, sewer, and stormwater projects at pgh2o.com/projects-maintenance/search-all-projects.

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