Environment

The Rust Belt city has rust-colored water that’s high in lead

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waste water

Image: Shutterstock/imanhakim

In addition to being part of the post-industrial North, Pittsburgh has something else that makes it a true Rust Belt city: rusty, corrosive, and lead-ridden water. To make things worse, not only is the city’s water far from being clean and potable, but its residents have been subject to price hikes since 2013.

For months, Pittsburg residents have complained of brown water, of main breaks, and high lead levels. In response to alarmed residents, the city water authority simply raised the cost of water, issued inaccurate water bills and denied their claims, arguing that the water is safe.

But is the water safe? Yes and no, it depends on what problem specifically affects residents. For those with high lead levels, then no, it’s not safe, because lead is poisonous.

There are federal limits for lead in drinking water (15 parts per billion), but these limits are based only on water chemistry, not on the actual affect lead has on humans who are exposed to it. As a result, there is actually no safe level of lead in drinking water, according to The Guardian. Exposure to lead in childhood diminishes IQ and can lead to behavioral and developmental problems.

But at 22 parts per billion, the lead levels in Pittsburg water more than exceeds the federal limits. To claim it’s safe to drink Pittsburg’s lead-ridden water amounts to claiming it’s safe to drink poison.

For those residents who are spared lead in their drinking water, they may have another problem on their hands: brown water. If the water only contains rust and not lead, then yes, technically it’s safe to drink, as the city’s water authority, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), eagerly claims.

But this isn’t very reassuring for those who use tap water daily to bathe, brush their teeth, cook and drink. In an interview with a local news program, one resident said, “Sometimes it looks like pure diarrhea coming out of the faucet.” This resident is not alone in comparing the city’s tap water to excrement. “It looks like dookie water,” said another Pittsburg citizen, “shitty water.”

Even John Poister, the spokesman of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, made similar concessions. “The water is safe to drink,” Poister said, adding that “it just doesn’t look good.”

Pittsburgh’s brown water is just the latest of decades of water problems due to the horrendous, irresponsible management of the PWSA, the city’s water authority. Over the last decade, the PWSA has managed to accumulate massive debt, whose payments alone accounted for more than 40% of the authority’s operating budget, according to The Guardian. In this period of time, the authority has overseen a steady increase of lead levels in Pittsburgh’s tap water, alongside other water problems like cancer-causing chemicals from fracking waste.

In addition to these problems, now the Rust Belt city has brown water coming out of the faucet. But instead of taking responsibility for its grave water problems, the PWSA simply decided to raise the price of water by 20%, which puts its cost at three times the average cost of water in the Midwest.

The PWSA can wait no longer. It urgently needs to own up to its dangerous irresponsibility and make reparation to residents it has overtaxed for its brown, poisonous water.

Marcus Wade loves to surf the Internet, drink coffee and travel. He loves meeting new people and having interesting conversations about art, politics and society.

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