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Flint, Mich. water activist to discuss Pittsburgh water problems at town hall

Flint and Pittsburgh town hall

A water activist from Flint, Mich., where high doses of lead contaminated the tap water of 100,000 residents in 2014, may be able to put Pittsburgh’s water problems into perspective.

Nayyirah Shariff, the director of the community organization Flint Rising, is the keynoter for a town hall meeting Tuesday evening titled “Not Another Flint,” hosted by the Our Water Campaign, a coalition of eight environmental groups formed to promote a safe, affordable, publicly controlled water supply in Pittsburgh.

Tom Hoffman, conservation program coordinator for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, an Our Water Campaign member, said it is important to hear from someone who has experienced a water contamination crisis and can discuss the lessons learned about the importance of community engagement.

“Being able to hear from someone who’s been through a water supply crisis will be very helpful,” Mr. Hoffman said. “It will highlight what’s the same and what’s different here.”

The Flint water crisis occurred when the city switched its water supply to the Flint River, which was much more corrosive than its previous supply from Lake Huron, and didn’t use corrosion inhibitors. That caused hazardous concentrations of lead to leach out of pipes, exposing 6,000 to 12,000 children, who are most vulnerable to lead’s health impacts.

Lead levels in the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority system climbed above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards last year, possibly related to a switch in corrosion inhibitor chemicals that occurred in 2014. The PWSA estimates that 20 to 25 percent of the system’s 83,000 customers may have lead service lines and could be at risk for elevated lead levels in their water.

“I certainly think there is a water problem here in Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Hoffman, whose own water at his home in Point Breeze tested above the 15 parts per billion federal safe drinking water standard. “The whole question of the city’s aging water infrastructure and how we will pay for fixing it is a very important one.”

The meeting also will feature a panel discussion with Pittsburgh Councilwoman Deb Gross; Dr. Christopher Conti of Primary Care Health Services; Corporate Accountability International’s Alissa Weinman; Glenn Grayson of One Pennsylvania, and Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Room of the Kingsley Association, 6435 Frankstown Ave.

Members of Our Water Campaign, in addition to the Sierra Club and One Pennsylvania, are Pittsburgh United, Clean Water Action, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, Nine Mile Run Watershed, New Voices for Reproductive Justice and Thomas Merton Center.

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