Senate approves lead task force, considers legislation to help replace private contaminated water lines

Senate approves lead task force, considers legislation to help replace private contaminated water lines

Author: Alanna Koll/Monday, June 19, 2017/Categories: Pittsburgh

The Senate approved legislation earlier this month to create a bipartisan task force with the hopes of investigating the scope of Pennsylvania’s lead exposure problem.  

Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) introduced the resolution with the knowledge that lead exposure can threaten the health and well-being of every Pennsylvanian- especially seniors and children.  

The resolution calls for an advisory committee of the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a review of state law and public policy related to lead exposure and abatement practices and then submit a report to the task force and full Senate within 18-months.  

The report must assess the age of housing and infrastructure, lead exposure threats, and identify the prevalence of lead in structures where children spend significant time such as child care centers.  

“The task force report will advance cooperative efforts to arm the General Assembly with better information and best practice recommendations to develop new lead abatement programs that more aggressively mitigate lead exposure in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Yudichak.  

The task force will be comprised of the chairs of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee and two members appointed by the Senate President pro tempore and the Minority Leader.  

Gov. Tom Wolf praised the formation of the state task force, stating the lead issue is a matter that everyone must come together and fix.  

“We know that a number of areas of the commonwealth are dealing with various issues related to lead and this demands comprehensive investigation and action,” wrote Gov. Wolf in a statement. “We’ve learned on issues like pensions, fair school funding, and the opioid epidemic that these statewide issues demand people coming together and hashing out a path forward.”  

In a 2014 Department of Health study, it was found that children in more than 18 cities across Pennsylvania have tested positive for lead at levels higher than those in Flint, Michigan. Some of the areas cited in the report include Allentown, Altoona, Bethlehem, Erie, Johnstown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Reading, and Scranton.  

Pittsburgh has also seen an increase in lead water levels with 14 homes testing well above the federally accepted minimum of 15 parts per billion in December.  

In response, the city launched a $1 million Safe Water Plan which includes providing free water filter pitchers to all city residents through the support of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA), Peoples Gas, and the city.  

PWSA has also suspended its practice of partial lead line replacements on public water lines, due to research linking the practice to further potential lead contamination.  

Under its compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, PWSA is mandated to replace seven percent of the total lead service lines in its water system per year. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) requires that public lines be replaced, but the provisions do not apply to privately owned lines.  

In order to remediate the issue within private lines, Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline) has proposed legislation- Senate Bill 656- to help homeowners replace their contaminated private water lines by allowing municipalities to make public funds available to repair or replace those lines that pose a threat.  

“My bill is making clear that the PWSA in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else throughout the state for that matter, has the ability to repair or replace a private line if they all agree to do that,” Sen. Fontana told The PLS Reporter Monday. “This is enabling legislation- it makes it clear that state law doesn’t prevent them from doing it. We’re making it very, very clear that they can do it if they so desire and can work out something with the homeowner.” 

The bill passed out of the Senate Local Government Committee on Monday with an amendment by Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) to clarify the inclusion of both sewer and water lines.  

Sen. Fontana hopes the Senate will be able to pass the bill on to the House by the end of the week. He guessed that his legislation would be brought up alongside legislation proposed by House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-McCandless) and Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Baldwin) to put the PWSA under the authority of the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) later this week.  

The PLS Reporter Harrisburg Bureau Chief Jason Gottesman contributed to this story