Locals take chloramine fight to EPA | August 24, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

News - August 24, 2007

Locals take chloramine fight to EPA

by Daniel DeBolt

In an effort to help dozens of Peninsula residents, including 30 from Mountain View, who say their sensitivity to chloramine has caused skin rashes and respiratory problems, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is pulling strings to allow them to speak with the Environmental Protection Agency's state office.

"Constituents have raised their serious concerns about chloramine," said Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. "I think it's important for the EPA and the Public Utility Commission to hear directly from them and I am facilitating this. The use of chloramine as a disinfectant in public water should be guided by sound science showing that it is both safe and effective."

Chloramine replaced chlorine as the disinfectant for Hetch Hetchy tap water in 2004. The switch had been recommended by the EPA to reduce the carcinogenic byproducts of chlorine.

Since then, however, more than 400 Bay Area residents have reported allergic reactions to chloramine, including skin rashes, respiratory problems and inflamed digestive tracts, according to the Menlo Park-based Citizens Concerned About Chloramine.

That group's president, Denise Johnson-Kula, said the goal of the meeting, scheduled for Aug. 27, is to start a discussion with the EPA about providing a "waiver" to local water agencies allowing them to go back to chlorine use — despite whatever effects that may have on byproducts in the tap water.

On the Peninsula, this could put responsibility for the problem back into the hands of the local water provider, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has said its switch to chloramine was prompted by EPA recommendations.

The group has joined forces with others from as far away as Vermont to build a national movement to stem the disinfectant's use until studies can be done on its health effects. The renewed effort came after a California bill to study chloraminated tap water, authored by Assemblymember Ira Ruskin, failed for the second year in a row this summer.

The groups celebrated one of their first victories two weeks ago, when a handful of residents in Pennsylvania were able to delay a switch to chloramine by the Pennsylvania-based American Water Company. Opponents said proper studies of its health effects had not been conducted.

One-third of the country has already converted to the disinfectant, said Kula. Water agencies, meanwhile, say some places have used chloramine since the early 1900s with no problems.

The EPA recommended that water agencies switch to chloramine to reduce trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic byproduct of chlorine disinfection. But the byproducts of chloramine are even more dangerous, according to Dr. Michael Plewa, professor of genetics at the University of Illinois, who recently published a study on tap water disinfection byproducts.

In an e-mail to the Voice, Plewa stated that the byproducts of chloramine are "much more toxic" than chlorine's — and that these byproducts are found in California water supplies. He recommends that water agencies switch back to chlorine.

Whether chloramine itself can be linked to people's health problems has yet to be studied. David Ozonoff, MD, a professor of public health at Boston University, says that question is definitely worth looking into.

"A close temporal relationship between the treatment change and the complaints of water users strongly suggests that one is the cause of the other," he wrote in a letter to Vermont-based People Concerned About Chloramine.

"Without a more detailed study of the matter it is not possible to say this definitively, but it is plausible that something about the treatment change has caused this. Water chemistry is complicated and sometimes produces unexpected and untoward results. The complaints are notice to look into the matter."

Such chemistry may have affected water supplies in Los Altos, where lead content is regularly tested. Following the introduction of chloramine, water in several homes was found to contain lead levels over the public safety limit, possibly due to the way chloraminated tap water reacts with the lead-soldered plumbing in older homes.

Greg Hosfeldt, business manager of the Mountain View Public Works Department, said 24 random water samples were taken from Mountain View homes and wells after the switch to chloramine in 2004. Lead levels were not found to be over the maximum level, he said. The city is slated to test its water again in September.

More information can be found at www.chloramine.org.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com


Like this comment
Posted by Denise Johnson-Kula
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Thank you Daniel DeBolt and the Mountain View Voice for your great article on the serious problems with chloramine in our water! You deserve credit for taking the time and making the effort to dig deeper into the facts about this complex but important issue. Hundreds of people have come forward who have demonstrated that their skin, respiratory and digestive symptoms are due to the chloramine in their water through cause and effect testing. This is no small feat since avoiding all one's tap water is very difficult, time consuming and expensive. These individuals must not shower or bathe in their chloraminated tap water, cook with it or drink it. They cannot wash their clothes in it(since it leaves a residue in the laundry that can irritate the skin) or run appliances like dishwasers or humidifiers(due to respiratory sensitivity to chloraminated water vapor). They cannot eat out or buy food prepared anywhere chloramine is used. For all their basic needs they must use only bottled spring water or water from distant areas that still just use chlorine disinfection. This is the only way people with chloramine sensitivity can stay symptom free. There are no easy soloutions like filtration(chloramine cannot be completely removed even with very expensive filtration). Most doctors do not know about chloramine or its effects and cannot properly diagnose symptoms since there are no skin, respiratory or digestive(including food exposure) studies on chloramine. Medical treatments offer little or no relief and can be dangerous long term -like steroids. The best treatment is to avoid the offending agent -in this case chloraminated tap water. Many individuals cannot manage to do this and continue to suffer. Those of us who do are burdened to the breaking point. Some of us, like me, have no choice because our symptoms are life threatening. The vast majority of the public are still unaware of chloramine even here in the bay area. The 400+ identified chloramine sufferers represent just the tip of the iceberg. Those who are not affected by chloramine in the short term can sometimes easily dismiss the sufferings and experiences of others. Even if they dismiss us they would do well to consider the work of Dr. Michael J. Plewa and other EPA researchers who have identified and studied the new nitrogen-containing disinfection by-products(DBP's) created by chloramine. These new DBP's are much more toxic than the currently regulated DBP's of chlorine. They are in California water supplies as well as many other water supplies across the country where chloramine is used. And since these new N-DBP's are so toxic, Dr. Plewa recommends that water agencies switch back to chlorine. There is no longer any excuse for waiting. We need our lawmakers to help our health departments and water utilities to see reason and stop the use of chloramine. We are grateful to Anna Eshoo, Ira Ruskin and others who have taken up this cause. They are true public servants. And we thank the Mountain View Voice for keeping the public informed about this critical issue. Many people were able to make the chloramine connection to their stubborn health problems after reading one of your articles. Now they are symptom free! Water is a basic necessity of life. We need to be better stewards of our precious water supplies.

Like this comment
Posted by Jan Frederiksen
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2007 at 5:41 pm

Thank you so much for covering this important issue. I live in Belmont and ever since chlormine was added to my tap water by the SFPUC I have had skin and respiratory problems. Every time I bathe or shower now I get dry itchy skin and a runny nose. (Sometimes I cough and sneeze too.) The itching is so intense I'm up all night scratching which deprives me of my sleep. Even when I do the dishes or breathe vapor or steam from chloraminated water, my nose runs. The tissue in my nose is so dry now that I've started to have frequent nose bleeds as well. The more I am exposed the worse the symptoms are getting.
I have always been very healthy, and have no symptoms if I use only bottled spring water or water treated with chlorine. But it is hard to avoid tap water especially for showering. I love going out of town where they do not use chloramine because I can bathe or shower as long as I want wihout getting sick at all!
The situation for those of us who are affected by chloramine is serious. We need relief. We are extremely grateful to Anna Eshoo, Ira Ruskin and the Mountain View Voice for working to protect our health. Even people who don't have symptoms now should be alarmed that the disinfection by-products of chloramine are MUCH more toxic than the ones made with chlorine.
We need choramine out of our water now for the good of everyone!