Pittsburgh ends boil water advisory

Last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) issued a boil water advisory for a number of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. This included Bloomfield, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Highland Park, Homewood North, Morningside, North Point Breeze, Point Breeze, Shadyside, South Oakland, and Swisshelm Park.

The boil water advisory was released as a precautionary measure following a power outage impacting a pump station at 2:00 a.m. on Feb. 12, leading to “low and no water pressure” in the affected neighborhoods. The system was restored by 5:00 a.m., but PWSA notes that when there is a pressure loss, “contaminants can enter the drinking water.”

PWSA noted that this encompassed an area with 6,117 households, and as a result, they placed “water buffaloes” — which are large tanks of clean water — at seven locations to help local communities while the boil water advisory was in effect.

PWSA also offered advice for how to effectively boil water to remove contaminants, and suggests that this be done before using water for “drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth, and food preparation” among other consumption-based uses.

By Feb. 15, the boil water advisory was fully lifted. PWSA conducted two rounds of water quality testing to determine if the water was safe to drink, and tests “did not show any evidence of microbial contamination.” Specifically, the tests looked at Total Coliform, “a group of bacteria known as an indicator of microbial contamination.” PWSA took samples from 29 locations within the impact area to get a representative sample of the affected population. However, delays in obtaining the samples for all locations led to a staggered lift of the boil water advisory as different samples came back clean at different times.

Pittsburgh residents no longer have to boil their water before use, but customers who haven’t used their water since before the outage are recommended to let their taps run at least one minute before using the water, so that stagnant water leaves the pipes.

This advisory came in the midst of calls to test Pittsburgh water in response to the Ohio train derailment Feb. 3. However, Hannah Wyman of Pittsburgh Union Progress reported yesterday that the risk of this is low, as the derailment is far downstream from where PWSA pulls water from the Allegheny River, and that chemicals are unlikely to travel upstream to the Pittsburgh area nor precipitate from the air into the Pittsburgh water supply.