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Safe to sip: Clean water will stay so with public vigilance May 9, 2016 12:00 AM By the Editorial Board Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte

Safe to sip: Clean water will stay so with public vigilance

May 9, 2016 12:00 AM

By the Editorial Board

Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte


President Barack Obama sipped filtered water in Flint, Mich., Wednesday to show the people there that they can, too, now that steps have been taken to address dangerous levels of lead in the drinking supply.

But it shouldn’t take a scandal or presidential visit to focus attention on water quality. Consumers should monitor their water providers on a continuing basis — and act if they have concerns.

Water authorities and providers — there are dozens of them in Allegheny County alone — annually publish public reports on the quality of their supplies. While the reports contain jargon, it is possible to glean from them the contaminants present in the water supply and to determine whether the levels fall within scientifically acceptable ranges.

Water providers may mail these reports to customers or provide them in other formats. They are available on the Allegheny County Health Department website and on some providers’ websites.

The health department’s Public Drinking Water Division annually inspects public water systems. “All equipment and components … are visually examined and water samples from various stages of treatment are collected for analysis,” the department says on its website. These reports are available for public inspection. Complaints about water quality can be posed to the providers or the health department, and at least some providers provide kits to consumers who want to have their water tested.

The problem in Flint occurred when city officials switched water sources without adding a chemical that helps to keep lead from leaching into the water from the pipes it travels through. The result was a public health scare when samples from some homes showed eye-popping levels of lead.

The Pittsburgh authority caused a minor stir this year when media reported last month that it had switched the primary chemical used to prevent lead contamination without notifying the state or county. The state cited the authority, which already had switched back to the other chemical, but said it had no evidence that the the temporary change had an impact on lead levels.

Water providers must be more careful about the work they do, if only because small missteps can cause grave public concern. Consumers, meanwhile, should hold providers’ and regulators’ feet to the fire.



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