Pittsburgh lifts flush and boil water advisory: ‘There is no longer a potential risk’

“Customers no are longer are required to boil tap water before consumption,” the city, DEP and water authority said Thursday morning.

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Updated, 1:40 p.m. Thursday

Just more than 42 hours after it was issued, the flush and boil water advisory for about 100,000 people in Pittsburgh was lifted at noon today.

City officials, including Mayor Bill Peduto, stressed that the advisory, while “a nuisance to so many people in the city,” was a precaution, and no one was in danger.

Though low-chlorine levels could have allowed waterborne illness Giardiasis to flourish, there was never a time that the bacteria was present, and chlorine levels didn’t dip below state or federal standards, Peduto said, stressing that the advisory was a precaution.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, city and public safety officials said during a noon news conference that they plan to investigate what happened and if it could have been prevented.

Officials from PWSA, the city and state Department of Environmental Protection met Thursday morning and decided to lift the flush and boil advisory.

“Officials from DEP confirmed that all drinking water requirements are currently being achieved, and there is no longer a potential risk to the drinking water supply,” according to a PWSA news release.

The state department echoed that on Thursday afternoon, saying it had issued a letter to PWSA allowing the advisory to be lifted. “DEP has evaluated the data provided by PWSA and has determined PWSA’s data demonstrates that the water in the distribution network is now in compliance with regulations,” a department statement said.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in the same statement:

“DEP does not issue such advisories lightly, and only does so to ensure the safety of Pennsylvania residents. PWSA has the responsibility to demonstrate that the drinking water being served in the distribution system consistently meets safe drinking water standards, and prior to this morning that evidence had been lacking.”

The state department said it “received additional information from PWSA on equipment calibration to guarantee accuracy of readings going forward.”

PWSA gave the DEP the necessary documentation Wednesday evening, according to PWSA’s release:

Late Wednesday night, PWSA provided the DEP with the required documentation and data to prove that the Authority achieved compliance, and its drinking water was safe for public consumption. This data showed that there was sufficient chlorine within the water system, the potential “water of concern” had been eliminated, and that the water met and exceeded all DEP water quality standards.

During the Thursday afternoon news conference, Bernard Lindstrom, interim executive director of PWSA, said he knows the negative public views of PWSA and wants to change those. He added that lead and “fragile” infrastructure are still big concerns for the authority.

Peduto and Kevin Acklin, his chief of staff, said PWSA more money. The goal is a comprehensive plan, about which there will be upcoming discussions with city council, Acklin said.

Peduto added that PWSA has never benefited from having a five-year plan or knowing its budget more than a year at a time. “This authority has never been given the proper resources to succeed.”

Update, 7:14 p.m. Wednesday

PWSA has not found any traces of contaminants or bacteria in its system, the authority’s interim executive director said during an evening update on the boil water advisory.

A first round of testing showed that “all indicators are stable,” Bernard Linstrom told reporters, and “chlorine is increasing.” However, the city was unable to provide an exact estimate of when the advisory will be lifted.

City officials have communicated with the Department of Environmental Protection to discuss the steps PWSA needs to take for the advisory to be lifted. PWSA will submit a plan this evening.

Mayor Bill Peduto’s Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin said the city is hopeful its submission to DEP “will show the system is safe.”

When the city launched its response, “we assumed the worst,” Acklin said. But results of testing show there’s a basis for lifting the order.

boilwateradvisoryarea
Map courtesy Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

 

Original post last updated, 5:07 p.m. Wednesday

Bernard Lindstrom, interim executive director of Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, said today that the boil water advisory affecting about 100,000 people will last at least three days.

He said at a press conference this morning that the advisory is precautionary, testing has increased and conversations are ongoing with the Department of Environmental Protection regarding steps necessary for the advisory to be lifted.

PWSA issued a boil water advisory Tuesday afternoon, closing 24 schools and impacting about 100,000 customers. Schools are expected open again Thursday and Friday, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said.

At the same time as the news conference, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith again called for an outside investigation of PWSA, during the city council’s standing committee meeting.

She urged council to request an inquiry by Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

The advisory is due to “recent disinfection and chlorine testing taken at a single location near the Highland Park drinking water filtration plant. A few tests showed low levels of free chlorine in the treated drinking water,” according to a PWSA news release. The microscopic parasite giardia can live in low-chlorine environments.

Per the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Giardiasis is an infection caused by the parasite and signs include:

Symptoms can begin three to 25 days after exposure; however, onset is typically within 10 days after exposure. Typical symptoms of giardiasis include diarrhea, gas, greasy stool, abdominal/stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and potential dehydration. Less common symptoms include itchy skin, hives, and swelling in the eyes or joints Symptoms can last one to two weeks. Asymptomatic infection can occur.

Customers impacted received robocalls on Tuesday, and PWSA released this interactive map of the affected areas.

PWSA said it plans to test the water every four hours until the advisory ends and provide updates. If you live or work in the impacted area, here are a list of resources to help you in the meantime.

Important note: This list is in no way exhaustive. If there’s something we should add, let us know.

How to use your water

If you are in the impacted area, PWSA says you should follow these steps before drinking water, making ice, washing dishes, brushing your teeth or cooking:

  • Flush the water tap by running the water for a minute or longer.
  • Boil the water for one minute, and let it cool.

The Allegheny County Health Department issued this tip sheet for restaurants, but it also has helpful tips for anyone cooking during the advisory. The health department also sent a news release Wednesday to clarify: “Bottled water may also be used. Residents can safely shower and bathe. Residents can use ice cubes that were frozen previously and can wash their dishes with little concern.”

Pittsburgh residents filled up water containers during a precautionary flush and boil advisory in February 2017.
Jasmine Goldband / The Incline