Residents in Pittsburgh were given “misleading” statements by health officials who “deflected” attention from lead-contaminated water, according to an audit in a report from the Guardian newspaper.
The information came from an engineer who helped uncover the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards said the scandal in that city had undermined trust in drinking water and claimed the Pittsburgh report was a warning that similar mistakes could be repeated. He also blamed a failure in oversight by officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The road to Flint was paved with this nexus of complacency,” said Edwards in the Guardian story. “Water utilities were cheating, EPA was looking the other way, and health departments were all too happy to let that occur because they wanted to keep their focus on lead paint,” he said. “This is the one lead source that is government owned, government controlled, and directly affects a product intended for human consumption,” Edwards said.
Pittsburgh discovered lead contamination in residents’ water almost a year ago, after the water utility switched chemicals it used to control metal corrosion.
The circumstances are similar to those that occurred in Flint. In that city, officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter after an investigation accused them of not doing enough to warn the public of the spread of Legionella bacteria.
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the drinking water source for the city was switched to the Flint River after more than 100,000 residents potentially were exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water.
The Guardian report said elected officials in Pittsburgh have faced continuous criticism after it was revealed that the water bought by residents from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) had high levels of lead.
The Guardian said the health department refused to comment on the report before it was made public. In a written response to the report, the health department said: “The audit reaches faulty conclusions and is fraught with inaccuracies regarding the data presented.” The health department called the report “misleading and biased and potentially dangerous.”