John Gibson: Setting record straight on Veolia’s PWSA work
In response to Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy’s op-ed “Real culprit in Pittsburgh’s lead crisis”
(Feb. 6, TribLIVE), we would like to state that we wholeheartedly agree with the author’s desire to put the interests and safety of the people of Pittsburgh first. We wish to set the record straight, however, regarding key misconceptions brought up in the op-ed.
Veolia North America is absolutely devoted to its mission of providing clean water to the people we serve, and takes every precaution to ensure that every individual has access to clean, reliable water in every one of those locations.
The reason Attorney General Josh Shapiro did not involve Veolia in the criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is simply because there are absolutely no grounds to do so. It should also be noted that the chairman of the PWSA board of directors at the time of Veolia’s tenure went on record absolving Veolia of any misconduct regarding lead.
We stand by our work in Pittsburgh and our commitment to environmental protection and a better quality of life. Here are some of the claims and facts:
Claim: While Veolia was operating manager of the PWSA system, the company switched to a cheap lead inhibitor treatment chemical which was not approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Fact: Documents confirm that the switch in chemicals was not initiated by Veolia, but by a PWSA employee acting on his own accord. Veolia did not recommend the change and, in fact, did not learn of it until months later.
Claim: PWSA laboratory staff was cut in half during Veolia’s contract.
Fact: Per the agreed contract with the authority, Veolia did not have the authority or responsibility of managing staffing decisions or reductions. The contract granted the final decision-making to the authority, including “ultimate responsibility for all PWSA employees and subcontractors and direct management of union employees.”
Claim: After leaving the contract, Veolia earned $11 million and left thousands with unsafe water.
Fact: The lead issues faced by Pittsburgh date back to long before Veolia was contracted by PWSA. Alex Thomson, then chairman of the PWSA board, told the Tribune-Review in October 2016 that Veolia is “not responsible for the lead issue PWSA has — these lead issues are the result of the fact we have 75- to 100-year-old infrastructure.” Over the course of the agreement, Veolia helped PWSA generate millions in annually recurring revenue and efficiencies, in addition to finding ways to address the authority’s $800 million debt. Veolia had no role in the decision to change corrosion control chemicals. All Veolia initiatives were approved by the PWSA board prior to their implementation. Veolia was paid based on its savings and revenue enhancements only after the results of the initiatives were audited and confirmed by an independent, third-party firm selected by the PWSA.
For more information, we encourage you to visit our fact-checking website on Veolia’s involvement in Pittsburgh: veoliapwsatruth.com .
John Gibson is chief operating officer of Veolia North America.