Is Pittsburgh Tap Water Safe to Drink? Water Quality Update

Is PIttsburgh Tap Water Safe to Drink?

If you live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you may be wondering – Is Pittsburgh tap water safe to drink. The answer is yes!

The tap water in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is safe to drink. The city has its own water treatment plant that purifies drinking water for the city’s residents and visitors. The water is regularly tested and meets all federal and state standards. Several contaminants were detected in the water at concentrations that are below standards. Many customers complain about the chemical smell and metallic taste of the water.

In this article, we discuss the public water system in Pittsburgh. We review their treatment process, the overall quality of the city’s water, and specific contaminants that are in their tap water.

Continue reading for more information about the quality of Pittsburgh’s tap water.

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Is Pittsburgh Tap Water Safe to Drink?Water Treatment Process

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) manages the city’s water. The authority conducts routine sampling as required by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These are available to the public.

In short, the public water in Pittsburgh meets the federal and state quality standards. I reviewed all of Pittsburgh’s water quality data and summarized it below.

Does Pittsburgh’s tap water have PFAS in it?

Pittsburgh has PFAS in its drinking water. The city tested its water for PFAS 10 times between August of 2018 and August of 2021. The most recent PFAS test was conducted on August 31, 2021. They collected two water samples:

  1. Raw 300
  2. Finished 101

The water sample identified as Raw 300 had the following PFAS chemicals in it:

  1. Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS): 2.0 parts per trillion (ppt)
  2. Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA): 0.60 ppt
  3. Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS): 0.50 ppt
  4. Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA): 0.77 ppt
  5. Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS): 1.8 ppt
  6. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): 1.2 ppt

The water sample identified as Finished 101 had the following PFAS chemicals in it:

  1. Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS): 0.77 ppt
  2. Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA): 0.76 ppt
  3. Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA): 0.98 ppt
  4. Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS): 1.3 ppt
  5. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): 1.1 ppt

The EPA has not established a national drinking water standard for PFAS compounds. The agency recently issued interim, revised drinking water health warnings for two of these contaminants.

  • PFOA = 0.004 ppt (interim updated health advisory)
  • PFOS = 0.02 ppt (interim updated health advisory)
  • GenX chemicals = 10 ppt (final health advisory)
  • PFBS = 2,000 ppt (final health advisory)

The concentration of PFOS (1.3 ppt) in Pittsburgh’s water supply (Finished 101 sample) is above the EPA’s interim health advisory of 0.02 ppt. The concentration of PFOA (1.1 ppt) in Pittsburgh’s water supply is above the EPA’s interim health advisory of 0.004 ppt. This impacts the safety of the public water supply.

Read my article about how to remove PFAS from drinking water.

Does Pittsburgh tap water have lead in it?

The drinking water from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority does not have lead in it when it leaves the treatment plant. However, approximately 15% of Pittsburgh’s water pipes are made of lead. Lead can leach out of the pipes due to corrosion which, in turn, contaminates the water.

The city has a corrosion control program to prevent lead from leaching from the old pipes into the water. They recently switched to an orthophosphate treatment program – this additive forms a protective coating on the inside of the lead pipes.

It is impossible to completely stop the corrosion of old lead water service lines. This results in some amount of lead leaching into the water supply for some homes. Because of this, it’s critical for people who drink this water to understand how to reduce their exposure to lead.

Does Pittsburgh tap water have organic compounds in it?

Pittsburgh’s tap water does not have any organic compounds in it. The water authority tests for VOCs and SVOCs annually to ensure that the water meets state and federal standards. The most recent organic compound sampling results were all non-detect (i.e., zero).

The authority points out that water is generally considered safe to drink.

Does Pittsburgh tap water have heavy metals in it?

Pittsburgh’s tap water has concentrations of chromium at a concentration of 0.535 ppb.

The EPA set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for chromium at 100 ppb. The MCL is the national drinking water standard – any amount of chromium below this level is considered safe.

Pittsburgh’s chromium levels are below the MCL. This is consistent with the state average as well as the national average.

Does Pittsburgh tap water have disinfection byproducts in it?

PIttsburgh’s tap water has several disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in it. The water treatment plant sample had the following DBPs in it:

  1. Bromodichloromethane – 16.5 ppb
  2. Bromoform – 1.54 ppb
  3. Chloroform – 26.9 ppb
  4. Dibromoacetic acid – 0.639 ppb
  5. Dibromochloromethane – 9.57 ppb
  6. Dichloroacetic acid – 11.7 ppb
  7. Haloacetic acids (HAA5) – 16.4 ppb
  8. Haloacetic acids (HAA9) – 32.7 ppb
  9. Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) – 54.1 ppb
  10. Trichloroacetic acid – 9.44 ppb

The MCL for HAA5 is 60 parts per billion (ppb) and for TTHM is 80 ppb. All samples for DPBs were below these drinking water limits. These are levels are not considered dangerous and do not present health risks.

Read my article about removing trihalomethanes from water using activated carbon.

Pittsburgh’s Water Supply System – Is It Safe?

PWSA water treatment plant in Aspinwall
PWSA water treatment plant in Aspinwall.

Pittsburgh’s drinking water system contains approximately 965 miles of water lines, five reservoirs, and 11 water tanks with a storage capacity of 455 million gallons. In general, it’s safe to drink the water in Pittsburgh.

There are three water providers for the city of Pittsburgh. These include:

1. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA)

  • The PWSA is the primary provider of Pittsburgh’s water.
  • They serve 300,000 customers in the Greater Pittsburgh area.
  • Water is treated at Aspinwall Treatment Facility

2. Pennsylvania American Water (American)

  • American serves 2.3 million customers across the state
  • Their water is treated at American Water

3. West View Water Authority

  • West View has 200,000 customers in parts of Allegheny, Beaver, and Butler Counties
  • Their water is treated at Neville Island Facility

Where does Pittsburgh get its drinking waterAlleghen River Pumps

Pittsburgh gets its water from the Allegheny River. The city does not use ground or well water.

Treatment plants in Pittsburgh

The PWSA operates one water treatment plant for the city. Water is pumped from the Allegheny River to the drinking water plant.

Treatment technologies used in Pittsburgh by Utility

Each day, an average of 66 million gallons of water are treated at the PWSA drinking water treatment plant. The plant has the daily capacity to produce 100 million gallons of water.

The treatment process is three days long and has five main steps.

Step 1 – Clarification

When river water passes through the clarification process, small solids are removed. In this stage treatment chemicals (coagulants)are used to form clumps, known as floc, from the small particles. These larger particles settle by gravity sedimentation.

Pittsburgh uses ferric chloride, potassium permanganate, carbon, and catatonic polymer in the clarification step.

Step 2 – Filtration

The next step in the process is to pass the clarified water slowly through anthracite coal and sand filters. This removes any fine particles or microorganisms that may be present.

Step 3 – Disinfection

The water is treated with chlorine to ensure that any microorganisms are killed. Sodium carbonate is added to adjust the pH of the water.

Step 4 – Fluoridation

Fluoride (hydrofluosilicic acid) is added to the water to prevent cavities in teeth. The city follows the guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Step 5 – Corrosion Control

Pittsburgh began using orthophosphate in April of 2019 to reduce lead levels in tap water. A year-long study found that orthophosphate is more effective than their previous treatment method of using soda ash and lime when it comes to reducing corrosion.

Secondary treatment of reservoir water

Secondary water treatment plant
Water from the reservoir is treated a second time at this treatment plant.

Some of the water used in Pittsburgh is stored in an open-air reservoir – Highland Reservoir #1. This water is treated two time

First, it is treated in the main treatment plant using the 3-step process described above. It is then retreated in the city’s secondary treatment plant.

This second plant utilizes several treatment processes, including:

  1. microfiltration
  2. UV light treatment
  3. chlorination to disinfect any pathogens picked up in the reservoir

Once the water has been treated, it is sent into the water distribution system. Water is pumped through a complex network of pipes to reservoirs and tanks that store treated drinking water. Water flows via gravity through miles of pipes to residential and business customers.

Pittsburgh Water Quality

By and large, Pittsburgh has clean tap water. The public water is safe to drink and meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water regulations. However, there are a few things to be aware of:

  1. Lead: Approximately 15% of Pittsburgh’s water distribution pipes are made of lead. Lead in these pipes can leach into the drinking water. Pittsburgh adds corrosion control chemicals to the treated water to form a protective coating and reduce this leaching.
  2. Chromium: There is a detectable level of chromium (0.535 ppb) in the tap water. This is below the MCL, and is presumably not harmful, but it is not ideal, eithre.
  3. PFAS: Several PFAS compounds were detected in Pittsburgh’s drinking water. Two of them are above the EPA’s health advisory levels. These are not enforceable standards and are only “interim”.
  4. Disinfection byproducts: Several DBPs were detected in the treated water. These are formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter in the water. They are not harmful at the levels detected.

Does Pittsburgh tap water taste good? Residents share their opinion

Taste is a very subjective topic, but many people say that Pittsburgh’s tap water tastes bad. The water is chlorinated, so it tends to smell like a swimming pool. This is the case with most public water supplies. Safe tap water for drinking is a reasonable expectation.

Many residents reported that they stopped drinking tap water due to:

  • water smelling nasty
  • yellowish color
  • chemical taste
  • swimming pool smell
  • tastes like metal

Is Pittsburgh water hard or soft?

Pittsburgh’s water is slightly hard. The testing results shows the water hardness varies between 36 and 181 parts per million; other hardness testing ranges between 2 and 11 grains per gallon.

Water is considered hard if it has more than 125 ppm or 7.5 grains per gallon of calcium and magnesium.

Does Pittsburgh add fluoride to its water?

Pittsburgh fluoridates its drinking water with hydrofluosilicic acid to help prevent tooth decay. The fluoride concentration is maintained at the levels recommended by the American Dental Association.

The level of fluoride in Pittsburgh’s water is below the EPA’s Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL) of 2.0 mg/L.

Does Pittsburgh add chlorine to its water?

Pittsburgh disinfects its drinking water with chlorine. Chlorine is added to the water at the treatment plant to keep it clean between the treatment facility and customers’ houses.

Does Pittsburgh tap water make good beer?

Pittsburgh’s water has a chemical odor and taste from the chlorine that is added. According to some water utility customers, it also has a metallic taste. These quality issues make Pittsburgh’s water a poor choice for making beer.

Despite this, there are several microbreweries in Pittsburgh. Most of these breweries use treatment such as carbon filtration and reverse osmosis.

Pittsburgh PA Tap Water Costs

The average monthly water and sewage bill is already costing customers over $100 per month. It is estimated that the average person could see their bill increase to $240 to $334 per month in the next two decades.

Fees for Pittsburgh water

Based on the Rate Zone 1 for Residential and Commercial Classes, residential customers in Pittsburgh pay the following fees for their tap water:

Monthly service charge – $17.50

Consumption charges are as follows:

Firm Average Day Demand – $0.0680 per hundred gallons

Interruptible Average Day – $0.9754 per hundred gallons

All amounts above sum of previously described amounts – $1.4815 per hundred gallons


Do I need to filter my tap water?

The water in Pittsburgh is relatively good and meets the EPA’s standards, so unless you have a personal preference, there is no need to filter your water. Some people do not like the taste of the city’s water.

What is the number one water pollutant in Pittsburgh?

The water pollutant that is most often detected in Pittsburgh’s public water is disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Disinfection byproducts form when chlorine reacts with organic material in the raw water. The average concentration of three DBPs was:

Haloacetic acids (HAA5) – 16.4 ppb

Haloacetic acids (HAA9) – 32.7 ppb

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) – 54.1 ppb

Should I test my water in Pittsburgh?

The Pittsburgh water authority tests the water annually for over 100 different contaminants. You can view the results of these tests on their website. You do not need to test your water unless you have a specific reason to do so. In general, Pittsburgh’s tap water is safe to drink.

Read my article about how to test your water for PFAS.

Can I drink tap water in Pittsburgh, PA?

Pittsburgh’s tap water is safe to drink. The water meets all state and federal drinking water standards. However, many customers complain about the taste and odor of the water.

Final Take on Pittsburgh PA Tap Water

The city of Pittsburgh’s tap water is safe to drink. The city has its own water supply for all of its residential and commercial customers.

The city has a treatment plant that purifies drinking water. The facility uses coagulation and flocculation following by settling and filtration to treat the raw water. This water is further treated using chlorination and fluoridation. They also add polyphosphates to the water to help control corrosion in pipes.

The city’s tap water has a chemical odor and taste from the chlorine that is added. According to some water utility customers, it also has a metallic taste.

The water is regularly tested and meets all federal and state standards. The water does have detectable concentrations of some PFAS compounds, chromium, and disinfection byproducts.

Chief Guru

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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