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Water Quality Reports — Pittsburgh


Problems With Pittsburgh Drinking Water (2018)

Editor's Note:  This article was updated on 1/23/2018 to include the most recent lead test data for Pittsburgh

Emma Schultz M.S. | Scientific Contributor   

For our assessment of Pittsburgh's water quality, we aggregated water quality test data from the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, the water provider for Pittsburgh, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as from samples that we collect and analyze.  We cross reference these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, and look at upcoming regulatory changes. The water filters that we sell in Pittsburgh are optimized with these issues in mind.

Source Of Pittsburgh Drinking Water

Pittsburgh tap water originates from surface water. Water is drawn from the Allegheny River, with a primary treatment plant located near Aspinwall, and a secondary Microfiltration Plant located in Highland Park. Water treated at the Highland Reservoir is open-air prior to treatment, and is therefore treated with microfiltration and chlorination to negate any contaminants captured during storage.

Lead In Pittsburgh Drinking Water

Pittsburgh has a lead problem, plain and simple.  Lead enters into home tap water through old lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing. When corrosion control measures fail (such as the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan), lead leaches into drinking water, and can reach toxic levels. Recent analysis for lead in Pittsburgh found a startling 90th percentile concentration of 18 parts per billion, with higher concentrations found in the summer of 2016 (22 ppb). In addition, over 18% of sites sampled in 2016 were found to exceed the Action Level, a set level of contamination that when surpassed requires treatment or other measures. 

***Update 1/23/2018:

Unexpectedly, the most recently round of Pittsburgh lead test data show that lead levels continue to rise.  The most recent data set shows a 90th percentile concentration of 21 ppb (up from 18 ppb), and a larger number of samples from the set exceed 50 ppb.  For reference, these levels are significantly higher than the levels being pushed for by the American Academy Of Pediatrics

It should be noted that Pittsburgh is still in compliance with federal regulations, because “an action level exceedance is not a violation” (see above linked 2016 Water Quality Report). EPA and CDC acknowledge, however, that there is no safe level of lead. In addition, federal regulations cannot take into account levels measured at an individual tap. See this 2016 article for more information on lead contamination in the Pittsburgh water supply.

Chromium 6 In Pittsburgh Drinking Water

Chromium 6 is a highly toxic metal that is not currently regulated by the EPA.  Pittsburgh’s tap water has recently averaged a substantial 400 parts per trillion for chromium 6.  These levels are over 19 times higher than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk.

Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) In Pittsburgh Drinking Water

DBPs are a type of halogenated emerging contaminants that form when chlorine-based disinfectants are added to the water supply, and subsequently combine with naturally-occurring organic matter.  These chemicals are not yet well-regulated, but the EPA has stated that they have been linked to increased risk of bladder cancer, and kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems. Pittsburgh’s tap water has recently had moderately high levels of DBPs, with a recent average of 88 parts per billion (the majority of which come from trihalomethanes).

Use Of Chloramine In Pittsburgh Tap Water

While most cities use chlorine as the primary disinfectant, Pittsburgh’s water is disinfected with chloramine (which is formed by mixing chlorine and ammonia).  Chloramine is the primary culprit for what many customers report as the “bad taste”of tap water, and unlike chlorine will not dissipate if left in the fridge overnight. Most one-size-fits-all water filters use filtration media that successfully removing chloramine, but the filters that Hydroviv builds for Pittsburgh's water problems use special filtration media that are designed to remove chloramine as well.

Still Have Questions About Pittsburgh's Tap Water?

Hydroviv is a water filtration company that uses water quality data to optimize water filters for each city’s water.  The chemicals that we list above are what we consider to be “points of emphasis” so we can build the best water filter for Pittsburgh tap water, but all of our home filtration water systems provide broad protection against other contaminants commonly found in drinking water (e.g. VOCs, heavy metals [including lead], pharmaceuticals, solvents, pesticides, mercury).

If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for Pittsburgh tap water, feel free to visit www.hydroviv.com, reach out by email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat.  We also frequently post water-related news on Twitter or Facebook.

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