Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed more than 100 criminal charges Friday against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority for failure to notify residents of potential health risks when replacing lead pipes.
The AG has filed 161 charges (one for each affected household) of third degree criminal misdemeanors for violating the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act. The charges allege that the company conducted a replacement of lead pipes to each of those houses without notifying residents and without conducting lead tests on the pipes prior to replacement. The charges also allege that the Authority is responsible for informing residents of practices they may take to avoid or reduce potential lead exposure.
While lead pipes are thought to last longer, they are also thought to lead to potential negative health effects, as seen most recently in Flint, Michigan, where similar charges have been brought. In children, this has led to adverse brain development, disabilities, and nervous system damage while in adults it commonly leads to kidney damage, high blood pressure, and reproductive issues. In a news conference announcing the charges, the attorney general said:
Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water–I’m here to defend that. The Water & Sewer Authority knew it was required to notify residents of its plans to replace service lines, and it knew it was required to sample the lines for lead content – yet it failed to do so. That makes PWSA criminally liable under the Safe Drinking Water Act
The maximum penalty for each count is one year in prison and a fine of $1,250-$12,500. The Attorney General has stated that he intends any money collected in the suit to go to Department of Environmental Protection programs targeted to affected areas such as the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh.