Consider alternatives to chloramine in water

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Citizens in the Pennsylvania American Water Co. service area have chal lenged the company's decision to use chloramine instead of chlorine to disinfect our drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency has required water systems to reduce chlorine byproduct levels caused when organic materials mix with chlorine. EPA suspects that these byproducts cause bladder cancer. One of several methods available to PAWC to meet EPA standards is chloramine, a mix of chlorine and ammonia and one of the least expensive and easiest methods available.

However, when researching chloramine, PAWC customers found EPA studies stating that chloramine produces byproducts far more toxic than those of chlorine which EPA seeks to reduce (

According to studies conducted and/or funded by EPA, iodoacetic acid, one of the many byproducts of chloramines, is among the most toxic byproducts yet discovered. According to EPA's own studies, byproducts of chloramine are genotoxic and cytotoxic, which means they are capable of mutating groups of genes and cells, causing cancer and/or birth defects. Many other byproducts of chloramine have not as yet been identified (

Chloramine is also highly corrosive, leaching lead from copper, lead and brass pipes, according to rubber manufacturers. In areas using chloramine, high levels of lead were measured in the water. Ingestion of lead by children causes developmental and learning problems (

Manufacturers of rubber and elastomer plumbing fittings report the life expectancy of rubber fittings has fallen severely with the change over to chloramine (

Scientists at Hach Homeland Security Technologies, a company producing terrorism detection equipment for water treatment facilities, warn against the use of chloramines in water systems in service areas that include military bases (

Scientific studies note that when heated, chloramine creates trichloramine vapor, a strong respiratory irritant. Recent studies have been done on indoor swimming pools showing respiratory effects in lifeguards and regular swimmers from inhaling trichloramine. Chloramine exists in swimming pools when chlorinated water mixes with ammonia from skin cells.

Inhalation studies were last completed by EPA in 1994. Hundreds of people in areas of California, Vermont, Oklahoma and other states where the change to chloramines has already taken place are reporting respiratory difficulties associated with the water ("

Permits to build a new facility intended for a chloramine system were granted to PAWC prior to the discovery of these adverse effects of chloramines and its byproducts. EPA's last risk assessment study of chloramines was done in 1998, before the studies in 2004-2007 were completed showing the likely public health hazard this compound can produce. There is much we don't know about chloramines. We do know that in 2007, EPA's own scientists and studies warn against chloramine as a disinfectant alternative.

EPA claims chloramine is safe at levels approved for water supplies. However, those levels concern only residual compound, not byproducts formed from interaction with organic material. Studies warning against use of chloramine do not state a "safe" level for these byproducts.

PAWC claims no reports of adverse health effects associated with chloramine in usage areas. However, in areas where customers have connected their chloraminated water supply to respiratory difficulties, hundreds of people have made reports to their doctors, water companies and legislatures.

Options are available to meet EPA standards without highly toxic byproducts or lead leaching. PAWC delayed introduction of chloramines, not to research these issues, but to educate the customers to the safety of chloramine. It is incumbent upon PAWC to consider alternatives less harmful to the environment and human health.

David Ozonoff, chair emeritus of the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health, aptly stated, "At the same time that a water supply is an efficient means to deliver a health-giving substance, it is also an efficient means to distribute harmful ones." He points out that after having relied on chlorine as a water disinfectant for many years, we have only now discovered its negatives.

Scientists know now that chloramines byproducts are more harmful than chlorine's. Will we have to be exposed to them for years before EPA acts on this knowledge?

SUSAN K. PICKFORD writes from Camp Hill.