Vermont Woman, April 2010
Safe Municipal Water In Vermont?
In November of 2008, fourteen-year old “Dylan Smith” developed such severe stomach cramps that he had to miss six weeks of school. His mother “Joan” took him to different doctors, and he had various tests performed, but no ready explanation for his stomach pain was found. The doctors were stumped. Nothing had changed in his life. He wasn’t experiencing stress at home or in school. Watching his health wear down, Joan became very worried. He went on medication to ease the cramping and as long as he took it, he was well enough to attend school.
But something was nagging Joan in the back of her mind. She and her husband are divorced and Dylan’s custody arrangement requires he spend alternating weeks at each parent’s house. When he would come home from his father’s he’d be somewhat better, but got worse again at her house. She couldn’t figure out what was different between the two places.
Then one day it dawned on her. One thing was different: the tap water. Her ex-husband’s home had well water while she had municipal water supplied through Champlain Water District (CWD), which supplies water to nine towns around but not including Burlington.
Joan made a decision to keep her son off the CWD water to see if there would be a change. When Dylan came home from his dad’s that week, she had gallons of spring water ready. She made sure not a drop of her tap water went into his mouth- not via cooked food, in a glass, or on his toothbrush. She sent him to school with spring water, with strict instructions to drink only that.
Three days later, Dylan’s stomach cramping was gone and he was off the medication. He was fine until Joan unthinkingly used tap water to make rice a few nights later and the cramping returned. Within two days he was better again. No mistakes since, and he’s fine, over a year later.
This is a scenario that could happen in any home using municipal water in Vermont in the near future. The EPA has made a new regulation requiring levels of two chemicals that form in municipal drinking water be lowered. Adding ammonia to existing chlorinated water systems does the trick. Municipal water systems all over the country are adding ammonia to chlorinated water - and people are suffering as a result. This ammonia-chlorine chemical is called chloramine. In 4/06, the CWD switched over from chlorine to chloramine in its distribution system. It is, so far, the only water district in Vermont to do this. The EPA regulation is in two stages, however. We are in the easier-to-meet Stage 1. The more stringent Stage 2 comes down in 2012. It is likely that most or all Vermont water utilities are considering possibly subjecting their citizens to chloramine by 2012.
A citizens group, People Concerned About Chloramine (PCAC) was formed by the people who suffered digestive, skin and/or respiratory symptoms shortly after chloramine was introduced into our CWD water. Since its inception, PCAC has been to the Vermont Health Dept., Dept. of Environmental Conservation, and the CWD to ask to have chloramine removed from the water. The response from all of them is that chloramine is a safe and well-studied chemical and couldn’t possibly be causing our symptoms. Even EPA and Center for Disease Control officials were here briefly. They left, saying that no one is being affected by chloramine, even though the CDC admitted on WCAX news that no studies on the health effects people are experiencing have been done. (Watch videos of suffering Vermonters testifying to EPA and CDC officials at vce.org/chloramine.)
PCAC has been to the VT Legislature since 4/06, trying to get chloramine banned in Vermont before it goes into the water of other towns and makes people sick there, too. Today PCAC has collected approximately 300 stories in the CWD, with new ones coming. PCAC is working with citizen groups fighting chloramine in PA, CA, SC, and NY. Together, we have heard from hundreds of people in 30 states and 3 countries that are suffering the same respiratory, digestive and skin symptoms that we are since chloramine replaced chlorine in their tap water. All these people have gotten better when removed from exposure to chloraminated water.
This is very hard for the legislature to deal with. It has never been faced with having to go against the EPA to protect its citizens from their tap before now. The Vermont Senate Health and Welfare Committee has had chloramine hearings over the last three years. Chair Sen. Racine said, “I, for one, in my 16 years in this building, haven’t heard a single complaint about our water until this year. It feels like something is going on.” He noted “a pattern of complacency” and a “passive approach” by the [Vermont] health department in response to such worries. “When you’re dealing with public health, you ought to be taking these anecdotal concerns more seriously,” Racine declared.
An engineering study ordered by the Health and Welfare Committee in 2009 has just been completed and is about to be delivered. It was ordered in the hopes of finding out what alternatives to chloramine would allow a two-year moratorium on chloramine without it being an undue hardship on utilities for meeting the new EPA regulation; Two years would give sufferers a break and water utilities some breathing room to figure out what can be done. We are hoping that after reading the study they will write that two-year moratorium bill.
Unlike chlorine, chloramine doesn’t boil or distill out of water. If you put a bowl of chlorinated water on the counter the chlorine will dissipate after a couple of hours. With chloramine it takes weeks. They have put an unstudied toxic chemical into our drinking water that we can’t get out.
For more information visit www.vce.org/chloramine, www.chloramine.org, or www.chloramineinfocenter.net and please contact your legislators about this important and timely issue.