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Debate Rages Over How To Handle High Levels Of Lead In Pittsburgh Water

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A debate is raging over whether the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water And Sewer Authority are doing enough to ensure residents' health and safety.

"The city didn't want this problem but it's here, and just acting like it's not here isn't going to protect anyone," Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said.

"What she did didn't really offer any suggestion, she just threw gasoline on the fire and said 'look at the fire,'" Mayor Bill Peduto said.

The "fire" is lead in water. The problem is lead service lines.

About 20,000 Pittsburgh households have lead service lines delivering water into their homes and between 20 and 30 percent of those lines are suspected of leaching high levels of lead.

That means people in up to 6,000 homes and apartment houses are drinking water with dangerous lead levels.

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Wagner believes the city should embark on a major public works effort to replace those lead service lines. But the question is cost -- while Wagner believes it could be accomplished for $25 million, Mayor Peduto claims it's much more.

"It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to replace all the private lines and under the present system we don't have the authority to do so," Mayor Peduto said.

Right now the city is not allowed to perform work on private property. The city will replace its portion of the line, but you must call a plumber to replace your section of the line at your expense.

Sen. Wayne Fontana has put in a bill to give the city the authority to replace the whole line and Wagner believes ultimately that will bring the cost way down, especially if it can be done a whole street at a time.

"That would be doing it the smart way, going through block and having the same crew work on this house and then move to the next house," Wagner said.

Wagner said the city could tap multiple sources to fund the plan, but Peduto disagrees, arguing the PWSA is already a billion dollars in debt and can't take on any more.

"This a national problem. This is an international problem and we're going much further than most water systems in this country," he said.

The city's under orders by the state to replace seven percent of the lead service lines every year, a process that will take more than a decade. The public must decide if that's fast enough.

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