The Other Paper Thursday, June 19, 2008 

Chloramine Group Achieves New Legislation

By Colin Ryan, staff writer
First in a series (1 of 3) 

People Concerned About Chloramine (PCAC) is a grassroots organization that formed one month after April 10, 2006, the day the Champlain Water District implemented a new disinfecting agent called monochloramine – a compound of chlorine and ammonia created by the disinfection of chlorine with ammonium sulfide – into the water supply.

“People began to come down with all kinds of dermal problems like rashes and open sores, and even respiratory problems, such as developing asthma when they’d never had it before, and a wide range of digestive problems as well,” explained group co-founder Rebecca Reno.  “We started out with 50 people with health problems…  this year, 300 people have contacted us with health problems.  And there could be five or ten times that many still out there.”

Dozens of people conducted their own experiment:  when they stopped drinking or bathing in the water, their symptoms would disappear within a few days.  According to Reno, water filters do not filter the chloramines, except a very expensive whole-house filter, which is only partially effective.  The switch to bottled water is expensive, and impractical, and after renewed contact with the water, the health problems came back. 

PCAC’s motto is:  “Water is life. We choose what foods we buy and what chemicals we then ingest – we should have the same choice about the chemicals in our water.”

“We got a lot of support, understanding, and agreement from Doug Racine, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee,” Reno pointed out.  PCAC did a lot of lobbying in the legislature in 2007, but did not get the bill they were aiming for, which would place a two-year moratorium on the use of chloramines in the water in all towns serviced by the CWD, as well as for any towns anywhere in Vermont.

What the committee did get were strengthened licensing requirements so that when a town water district applies to use a new chemical in the water they will have more work ahead of them.  A more involved process should result in more chances for the public to get information and get involved.

In 2008, Racine’s committee tightened up the regulations, and requested that all people involved – Vermonters for a Clean Environment, PCAC, the State Department of Health, the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Department of Environmental Conservation – meet 4 or 5 times before the legislature convenes and complete a stakeholder review process to come up with some solutions to the health issues.  Part of that will be to look at alternate methods that the Champlain Water District could use other than chloramines.

The corresponding section of the Vermont Statutes has been officially amended to read:  “Avoidance of public health hazard or risk:  A public water system permit shall be issued or renewed only upon a finding by the secretary, included in the permit, that operation of the system will comply with the standards adopted under this chapter and will not constitute a public health hazard or a significant public health risk.”

“One of our obstacles was that we needed more doctors’ opinions, which is difficult to obtain since chloramines has not been studied,” Reno said of PCAC’s attempt to eliminate chloramines from the water disinfection process.  “Although the EPA would be the obvious body to perform the studies, the agency says the studies would be too expensive.  But we did get a legislation that makes health a criterion for approval.  This was unclear before, but now the public information process will be stronger.”

Next week:  A look at how the Champlain Water District collects, filters, and cleans South Burlington’s water.