Mark: Pittsburgh


Analies Ross-Dyjak  |  Policy Analyst

If you caught us on Shark Tank, you'll know that we dig through your water quality data before optimizing your filter. We didn't want to leave the Sharks out of the fun, so we thought we'd do a "deeper dive" on the water the Sharks swim in! This post is all about Mark Cuban's home town of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh water has quite a few problems, but don't worry -- we've got you covered, Mark!

Where Does Pittsburgh Water And Sewer Get Its Drinking Water?

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority sources its drinking water from the Allegheny River. The city treats and delivers 70 million gallons of drinking water to 300,000 customers every day.

Lead In Pittsburgh’s Drinking Water

Pittsburgh has a huge problem with lead contamination in drinking water. Lead enters Pittsburgh's tap water through old lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing. In June of 2017, 10% of the samples exceeded the Action Level of 15 parts per billion. In December 2017, 10% of the sites exceeded 21 parts per billion, which is significantly higher than EPA’s already low Action Level. Additionally, Pittsburgh inaccurately listed the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) for lead in drinking water. The report listed 15 parts per billion as the MCLG, but Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the MCLG for lead should always be 0 parts per billion. 128 sites were sampled for lead contamination, which doesn’t even begin to accurately represent the 300,000 residents living in Pittsburgh. Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recognize that there is no safe level of lead for children. Lead exposure can cause developmental issues, lowered IQ, and damages to the kidneys and brain.

How Can I Protect Myself Against Lead Contamination In Pittsburgh's Drinking Water? 

When our Water Nerds build filters for Pittsburgh residents, we optimize for "worst case scenario" lead concentrations. If you don't want to purchase a filter with high-capacity lead removal, federal official recommend letting your faucet run for two minutes before drinking or cooking. We also highly recommend taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s free lead testing program! If you are a customer of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, you can request a free kit by signing up online or by calling 412-255-2423.

Disinfection Byproducts In Pittsburgh’s Drinking Water

In addition to lead contamination being of major concern, Pittsburgh municipal water also has extremely high levels of Disinfection Byproducts or DBPs. DBPs form when disinfecants such as chlorine and chloramine,react with organic matter. DBPs are split into two categories: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5). Concentrations of TTHMs averaged 56.3 parts per billion but were detected as high as 105 parts per billion. Concentrations of HAA5 averaged 18.8 parts per billion but reached levels as high as 36 parts per billion. For a bit of perspective, EPA set a very weak Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 80 parts per billion for TTHMS and 60 parts per billion for HAA5. Disinfection Byproducts are a category of emerging contaminants which means they have been detected in drinking water but the risk to human health is unknown. Regulatory agencies have very little knowledge about the adverse health effects of DBPs, and their toxicity. EPA has stated that they have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems. Some disinfection byproducts have almost no toxicity, but others have been associated with cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental issues in laboratory animals. 200 million people in the United States use chlorinated tap water as their primary drinking source, so we take understanding their full health effects very seriously, even if federal agencies fail to regulate all categories.

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