Lead, Water & Pittsburgh: A Mother’s Regrets

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Buying bottled water is expsensive, but what if it reduced or eliminated your child's exposure to lead? Read about this Pittsburgh mother's regrets.

Since I became a mother, I’ve discovered new fears. A litany of them, actually. One of those fears when I was expecting was drinking water. I was so paranoid about water quality that I bought bottled. As a pregnant woman, I drank a lot of water. It was one of the few “luxuries” I allowed myself in those days.

After I had children, I was still concerned about it. So I continued to buy bottled, largely because I sometimes used formula with my children. (Primarily they were breastfed, but even then, what I was drinking would end up in their milk.) I didn’t use it 100% of the time, but it was still our primary source of drinking water.

After the formula and breastfeeding days were behind us, I eased up. Water and soil in Pittsburgh is surprisingly clean considering everything we’ve put our environment through until the 1980s. (Though our air quality is still suffering, despite us becoming a shining example of green-city renaissance.)

Plus, bottled water is expensive considering the stuff you get out of the tap is free. Stop drinking tap water and you likely won’t see a big dip in your bill.

Shortly after I stopped buying bottled, the organization that provides our water (PWSA) switched from treating our water with soda ash for corrosion prevention to caustic soda. They both prevent erosion to lead pipes, but which one you use is highly dependent on water chemistry.

They made the switch because it was cheaper, and they didn’t notify anyone they were doing it, including regulating authorities. It went on from April of 2014 to January of 2016. They don’t have hard data that shows lead levels are elevated, but it is a possibility.

From a completely anecdotal perspective, I know of at least one house that has tested their tap water and lead levels came back too high, but I do not know if there were any other extraneous factors at play.

During the time that the caustic soda was being used, they didn’t test for lead levels. We already have a higher rate of lead exposure than Flint, Michigan in Pittsburgh, and now all my worst paranoid worries are receiving some justification.

PWSA is bringing me a free water testing kit. But, and here’s the kicker, all I do is fill up a tube of water and then submit it back to them for testing. No third parties. No control for bias.

I’m going to have a hard time trusting it.

The point? I wish I had trusted my instincts. I wish I had blown money on bottled water for the past two years. Sure, I’d have a little less money, but I also wouldn’t be scheduling blood draws for my children.

Live in Pittsburgh and want your water tested, too? Get a free kit by calling (412) 782-7554.

19 thoughts on “Lead, Water & Pittsburgh: A Mother’s Regrets

  1. Hannah

    Home Depot offers free testing kits at the front of their store. When the flint problem became public, I tested our water three times.

    Lead poisoning is a big concern for parents and I think it’s valuable to test and play it safe when necessary.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    So many water issues. It makes me glad that we have well water, even if we have to be a bit more careful when the weather turns dry.

    You might want to pay for an independent result. It looks like you can get a viable lab option at home Depot for $50 ($10 for the kit and $40 for the test). I also see a $25 kit that analyzes on site for multiple contaminants but only on a pass/fail basis. It would at least give you a comparison to the “official” results.

  3. Money Beagle

    I’m here in Michigan about an hour away from Flint, so obviously that’s gotten all the press for the last few months, but it’s pretty clear that the problems in Flint are likely going to be the beginning and not the end of the problem, and unfortunately, your post is showing that’s already happening.

    Best of luck with your testing. Praying for favorable results.

  4. Femme Frugality

    It’s so odd because even in our local market, this seems to be a sidebar story. Flint was definitely covered a lot, which it deserves, but it does make me worried that it’s happening other places now that there’s a threat in my own backyard.

    Thank you for your prayers. Sincerely. I can’t tell you how heavily not knowing for sure is weighing on me. The worst part is, if there is damage, it’s been done. Knowing won’t change that either way.

  5. Jana @ Jana Says

    I really hope you get good results from the test.

    This whole debacle with people’s DRINKING WATER has me all kinds of up in arms. There is no reason, none at all, to mess with the water supply and pipes and all that. I mean, I get the theory behind it but has it all been worth it?

    1. Femme Frugality

      In this case it kills me because maybe it could have been safe AND saved money, but they didn’t do due diligence to make sure that was the case. In Flint I have a hard time imagining the last suits cost less than what they were saving. So no. Even if you don’t have a moral compass (these are kids, you expletives!) it’s not worth it.

  6. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    As a caution, you might have to work a bit to find a kit that truly gives you results – especially the free kits. My parents have well water at a cottage up north. Of course, they wanted it tested and test it fairly regularly. A lot of companies that make the kits are also interested in selling you everything under the sun. So, depending on the kit, it might come back saying, “Call x to get your water fixed” and not give real results.

    Chicago water is apparently riddled with lead in some areas as well. We also drink Lake Michigan water. I was a little concerned about using a rain barrel to water my plants (should I test my shingles or gutters for icky stuff?!), but now it seems like every way is full of ick.

    Hope you get good news about the blood draws.

    1. Femme Frugality

      Thank you for that advice! I’ll have to ask Hannah which one she used.

      That sounds terrible in Chicago…I had no idea. We really need to start taking care of our environment, especially in urban areas, or it’s going to start taking care of us in ways we don’t like. I hate how money so often wins these arguments when there are populations full of human lives at stake.

  7. NZ Muse

    Oh gosh, that’s dire. Clean water is a basic, basic thing. I’m definitely grateful that we have really great tap water here – this really hit me as we traveled through SE Asia and could only drink bottled water anywhere we went. (Though we are soon to get a cooler through T’s work…) Bottled IS expensive, and hoping for good results for you.

    1. Femme Frugality

      We had the same experience in Mexico. Hopefully all of this amounts to buying, because even if we don’t drink it, how am I supposed to consciously bathe my children in it? Overwhelmed.

  8. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    Eep, that’s terrifying!

    Any chance a filtration system would help? We’re loving the reverse osmosis system we got. And given how much we were spending on water delivery, we’ll start seeing savings within the next couple of months. It’s a cost-effective alternative to constantly paying for bottled/delivered water. (And more eco-friendly, I suppose.) It was about $400 to get the system and have it installed. But I don’t know whether it would treat for your issue.

    1. Femme Frugality

      Garrett from Two Cup House was telling me about this when we were looking at a place with well water. I think it’s an investment we will make when we own, but renting makes the situation tricky.

      I don’t know if it would help with lead either, but it’s worth looking into. Until then, my trust had eroded and it’s bottled.

  9. kay ~ the barefoot minimalist

    I looked up fluoride levels in the water in Palm Bay when we lived there last year. Not only did they fluoridate the water, but they fluoridated it BEYOND the levels that is advised. I don’t want ANY fluoride in my water, thank you very much. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this Femme. It’s maddening for sure! God bless you, your family, and everyone else that has been affected by this.

    1. Femme Frugality

      They paint fluoride on kids’ teeth now. Without asking. I caught it with one, but they didn’t even ask permission on the other. Thank you for the thoughts! Hopefully things will be okay. I’ll be sure to update and let you all know.

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