July 16, 2004
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Publication Date: Friday, July 16, 2004
(July 16, 2004) Citizens can counteract effects of chloramine
Loving cat or dog owners would never put their pet in a box without air holes. Unfortunately, people who put fish in untreated tap water in tanks and ponds may be doing something similar. The chemical chloramine, which has been added to Mountain View tap water, can kill fish in minutes if the water is not treated beforehand.
Life for fish around the city was going swimmingly until February when Mountain View's water supplier began adding chloramine as a disinfectant. Chlorine, the previously used disinfectant, was discovered to be forming low levels of potential carcinogens. Chloramine, which does not have the same problem, is safe, in general, for humans. But fish are at risk because they receive it into their bloodstream via their gills.
In anticipation of the addition of chloramine, the city of Mountain View mailed literature to all residences and businesses explaining its potentially harmful effects. The fliers and brochures were printed in English, Spanish and Chinese and therefore accessible to almost everyone in the city.
But not everybody read the brochures, and their fish floated to the top of their tanks and ponds. For those who did receive the news that they had to start specially treating their fish's water, some found the process at times expensive and inconvenient. (However, the Silicon Valley Aquarium Society's Web site states the treatment chemicals cost only about $10 a year for the casual pet fish owner. A one-time cost of a proper filter may be over $100.)
There are also less clear health risks for humans. Chloramine, untreated, is a serious risk for kidney-dialysis patients, and it is the alleged cause of a local woman's allergic reaction. A Menlo Park woman sued the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which also supplies 90 percent of Mountain View's water, claiming that she is allergic to the chloramine and has talked to others who are also allegedly getting skin reactions from the new water additive.
But people -- including pet owners, pet store owners, and restaurant owners who display live fish in tanks -- appear to be reporting more problems with fish.
The city, as the purveyor of the chloraminated water, may need to review whether it did enough to inform local fish guardians of its dangers and if the SFPUC should also help protect its users. Fish owners need to know how to handle the water their fish "breathe" and then properly treat it. We can work to reduce the number of fish that go belly up.
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