The Other Paper
April 2010

Chloramine is Toxic to the Environment

I read the article in the 4/1/10 issue, “Aging Infrastructure Leads to Large Water Leak.”
There have been hundreds of health complaints of respiratory, skin, and digestive symptoms reported to People Concerned About Chloramine (PCAC) since chloramine, a chemical made out of chlorine and ammonia, replaced chlorine in the distribution pipes of the Champlain Water District (CWD) in 9 towns around but not including Burlington in 4/2006.
Because the health effects of chloramine exposure have taken such a center stage in the CWD, there hasn’t been much talk about the environmental effects of chloraminated municipal water. This seems a good time to address that.
Water containing tiny concentrations of chloramine is deadly to aquatic life (fish, frogs, and invertebrates). The same is true of chlorine. However, there is a huge difference. Chlorine dissipates very quickly and chloramine takes weeks to dissipate. So if a water main breaks and leaks chloraminated water into natural waterways, chloramine keeps killing and killing, whereas chlorine, which can also kill fish and invertebrates, too, dissipates very quickly so the devastation is quite small in comparison.
Take McLean, VA, for instance. A stream called the Pimmit Run goes through McLean. According to an article in the 4/2/08 edition of the Fairfax County Times, a water main broke, leaking “hundreds” of gallons of chloraminated water into the Pimmit Run, and killed “at least 90 percent of the fish”, according to Ed Pickens of Fairfax Trails and Streams. This happened over several miles of the stream, the article stated.
The same thing was reported in a 7/15/06 San Francisco Chronicle article, “Water Main Breaks Prove Deadly to Fish”. There was a series of water main breaks in the East Bay Municipal Utility District, flooding creeks with chloraminated drinking water, and killing many fish in two places they know of. Anecdotally, many people who have lived for years next to these creeks say they always loved hearing the frogs but now it is silent (Citizens Concerned About Choramine, Urban Creeks Council).
Canada has deemed chloramine “toxic” in its Environmental Protection Act  (CEPA 1999). “….severely negative consequences to freshwater ecosystems have occurred in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, where releases of chloramine-treated potable water due to water main breaks resulted in the mortality of many thousand salmonids and several thousand invertebrates.”  And “Larger flows….. such as from large distribution system leaks, main breaks, fire hose discharge, main flushing, street washing and some industrial and commercial activities, will have a greater possibility of producing impacts.” (Priority Substances List Assessment Report for Inorganic Chloramines)
It is very troubling to hear about the aging infrastructure and water mains breaking in the CWD, knowing that a small fraction of the chloramine that is in our drinking water kills aquatic life. There are a lot of natural waterways in the CWD. This is another very important reason for the CWD to go back to chlorine in the distribution system.
Anyone who thinks they might be suffering from the respiratory, skin and/or digestive effects of chloramine in the tap water is encouraged to contact PCAC at 651-8753 or

Ellen Powell
South Burlington