Utilities receiving more requests for testing of lead levels in water

    Utilities provide free lead testing for individual homes. The number of requests for tests has risen since news of high lead levels in Flint emerged.

    Under its Lead and Copper Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency requires utilities to test for lead levels in water in people’s homes. But the sample size is small — for the Commonwealth’s two largest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, for instance, EPA calls for 50 samples every three years. Many utilities, including the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), also provide free lead testing for individual homes.

    The number of requests for those tests has risen since news of elevated lead levels in water in Flint, Michigan has emerged nationally. 

    PWSA sees 25-50 test requests in an average year. In the first two months of 2016, it has already received about 240 requests. “We do some of them in-house and then we’ve got arrangements with another certified lab to help us with the numbers so we don’t fall behind,” said James Good, Executive Director of PWSA. Brendan Schubert, PWSA’s Manager of External Affairs, said the pace of requests is already slowing.

    PWD saw a less dramatic rise. In an average year PWD receives eight requests, but has gotten 24 this year.

    Flint’s circumstances are unique — the city switched to a new water source and failed to implement an anti-corrosion plan — but the pervasiveness of old, lead service lines is similar to what many Pennsylvania communities have underground.     

    The lead tests required by the EPA are designed to evaluate whether utilities’ programs to limit corrosion of lead and copper pipes are working. Those tests cannot predict the water quality of individual homes, since that depends on homeowners’ plumbing.    

    Some homeowners may opt to use private labs to test their water. 

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