Professors Win Grant for Study of Anti-Corrosion Additive
Following the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority planning to use orthophosphate as a corrosion control measure for lead pipes, two professors from the University of Pittsburgh have received a $175,000 NSF Rapid Response Research grant to examine the environmental effects of the treatment.
Sarah Haig, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, who also has a secondary appointment in Environmental and Occupational Health at the Graduate School of Public Health, and Emily Elliott, associate professor of Geology and Environmental Science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and Director of the Pittsburgh Water Collaboratory, will use the grant to evaluate water samples provided by the PWSA.
Corrosion Control History
In early February, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed 161 criminal charges against the PWSA, alleging that the authority had failed to notify residents of when lead pipe replacements would be occurring, and failed to sample water within a specified timeframe after the pipes had been replaced.
According to the Associated Press, the charges are a breach of Pennsylvania’s safe drinking water law. Previously, the PWSA admitted civil liability; state regulators fined the authority $2.4 million. Currently, the PWSA is under a mandate to replace at least 7 percent of its lead lines every year.
In late March, the authority announced that it had sought approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the use of orthophosphate, rather than soda ash and lime.
“Orthophosphate addition is the interim step to reduce to the risk of lead in water found in some homes. Our long-term goal is to remove all lead service lines from the system,” said PWSA Executive Director Robert A. Weimar.
“Pittsburgh’s drinking water pipe system loses more than 25 million gallons per day due to leaks and other water discharges, so it’s important to understand what happens if orthophosphate enters the groundwater and surface water,” said Haig. “This grant will allow us to set a baseline and evaluate any changes that the added orthophosphate causes to streams connected to the system.”
Both researchers will examine changes in the microbial ecology, water chemistry and nutrient availability in water that will be collected from pipes and urban streams, both of which are linked up to the system. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of orthophosphate, there remains a need to study the level of additives that become present in the environment.
According to TribLIVE, phosphates can contribute to excessive plant growth in lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering noted that the PWSA will be working with the university on the study.
“This project will help answer fundamental ecological questions about how leaking infrastructure can impact nutrient cycling and aquatic ecosystems in urban streams,” said Haig. “Not only will this project reveal the treatment’s immediate effects on Pittsburgh’s ecosystems, but it will also provide insights that will benefit other cities implementing this treatment.”
The grant was awarded at the beginning of this month.The project is slated to take roughly one year.