Lead Worry Alters Water Treatment Methods in West View
LaRussa, Tony, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The West View Water Authority stopped using ammonia in its treatment process after discovering the chemical raised the level of lead in drinking water for about 3 percent of its customers.
About 18 months ago, the authority began mixing a small amount of ammonia to the chlorine used to disinfect water to extend the time it remains safe for drinking during warmer weather, according to Joe Dinkel, the authority's executive director of operations.
Adding ammonia to the mixture also reduces potentially dangerous by-products, known as "trihalomethanes," which can form when chlorine alone is used to treat water, he said.
"We were trying to deal with one problem and ended up shooting ourselves in the foot by creating another one," Dinkel said.
While using ammonia in water treatment is approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, it can cause lead to dissolve from pipes and plumbing fixtures, according to the agency.
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have plumbing that contains lead.
"Lead, especially high concentrations, can cause serious problem for the kidneys and brain," said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department. …