Our Water Campaign statement on Attorney General’s PWSA Charges

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced that his office has filed charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) regarding the 2017 lead crisis.

Said Pittsburgh United Environmental Justice Organizer Aly Shaw, “The Our Water Campaign has worked for several years to address the problem of lead in our drinking water. Every city resident deserves access to clean drinking water. We know that lead poisoning can result in severe, long-term health problems, and so we are heartened that the Attorney General is taking Pittsburgh’s lead issues seriously. However, we’re concerned that this legal action focuses singularly on PWSA, the public authority in charge of cleaning up the lead crisis, rather than on Veolia, the Paris-based water corporation that managed PWSA during the time in question. For two years, we’ve worked with local residents to make sure that Veolia is held accountable for their mismanagement of  PWSA and their role in the city’s lead crisis. We’d like to see the Attorney General’s office do the same, and place blame where it belongs.”

Under Veolia’s management, the chemical used to prevent lead contamination was switched to a cheaper alternative without the required state approval. And, the company cut in half PWSA staff responsible for testing water quality. While the residents of Pittsburgh were left to deal with the lead crisis that followed Veolia’s management, privatizer Veolia walked away with $11 million dollars — and left thousands of people with unsafe or unaffordable water.

The lead crisis that Veolia left PWSA to clean up is an unfortunate reminder that we must stand up and say no to multinational corporations seeking to enrich their shareholders on the backs of Pittsburghers, especially our most vulnerable residents.

PWSA–now under new management and leadership–has made enormous progress in recent months working with the community to make water safer and more affordable for Pittsburgh residents. It is important that they continue to be held accountable to the public they serve. But we also deserve a full, public, statewide investigation into the role Veolia’s mismanagement of PWSA may have played in Pittsburgh’s city’s water crisis. We hope that this is a key part of any further action taken by Attorney General Shapiro.

Our Water Campaign

Safe, Affordable, Publicly-Controlled Water for All

The Our Water Campaign is a coalition of local organizations, including Pittsburgh United, Clean Water Action, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, Sierra Club, the Hill District Consensus Group, Nine Mile Run Watershed, Penn Future, Thomas Merton Center, and One Pennsylvania. The campaign was formed to ensure safe, affordable, publicly controlled water for all. Aqua America is the latest private water company to make a bid to privatize Pittsburgh’s water system – read more about the corporation’s record labor, water quality, and water rates here. 

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Media Coverage:

Few are using PWSA’s programs for low-income customers

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority offers programs for its low-income customers that can provide deep discounts on bills as well as assistance in paying off an accumulated balance — but few customers have taken advantage of the help.

From Coast to Coast: A Closer Look at Lead Contamination Across the Country

Five years ago, the city of Flint, Mich., switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River temporarily while it constructed a pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority. The decision, coupled with a change in corrosion control treatment, ultimately led to a state of emergency as the city faced lead contamination. Similar situations have unfolded across the country from Newark, N.J., to Pittsburgh as cities work to combat aging water infrastructure. Flint’s situation helped raise awareness of the nation’s lead contamination concerns, initiating the development of new treatment products and legislation targeting lead contamination and lead in schools.

Looking at Lead

In February 2019, Pittsburgh United, a coalition of organizations advocating for safe water, secured a legal settlement that requires PWSA to spend nearly $50 million to address high levels of lead in drinking water. WQP Managing Editor Lauren Estes asked Pittsburgh United Environmental Justice Organizer Aly Shaw about the settlement.