Chloramines in Drinking Water – Debate Heating Up in Charlottesville and Albemarle

What’s a chloramine? You’d better find out. Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority will hold a public information session on June 21 regarding the proposed use of chloramines as a secondary water disinfectant in the urban water supply starting in 2014.

I’m just starting my research on chloramines and don’t know enough yet to make an informed decision (one of the reasons I’m writing this post – to force myself to read and research chloramines. I know my clients will be interested; drinking water contributes to quality of life, and “quality of life” is one of the most important reasons people move to and stay in Charlottesville-Albemarle.

Chloramine in Charlottesville: Questions and Chemistry
Help keep our community water resources safe. Stop chloramine.
Debate Over Disinfecting Our Water – Chlorine or Chloramine?
RWSA’s decision to disinfect water with chloramine raises concern amongst city residents
RWSA Defends Switch from Chlorine to Chloramines

The EPA says that chloramines are safe, unless you’re a fish or plumbing.

Other concerns with chloramines in drinking water

Chloramines, like chlorine, are toxic to fish and amphibians at levels used for drinking water. Unlike chlorine, chloramines do not rapidly dissipate on standing. Neither do they dissipate by boiling. Fish owners must neutralize or remove chloramines from water used in aquariums or ponds. Treatment products are readily available at aquarium supply stores. Chloramines react with certain types of rubber hoses and gaskets, such as those on washing machines and hot water heaters. Black or greasy particles may appear as these materials degrade. Replacement materials are commonly available at hardware and plumber supply stores.

What types of rubber hoses and gaskets?

Drinking water is relatively cheap in Charlottesville and Albemarle (pdf):

Metered Consumption
Residential and All Irrigation Water Rates:
Level 1 (0-3,000 gallons per month) $ 3.31 per thousand gallons
Level 2 (3,001-6,000 gallons per month) $ 6.62 per thousand gallons
Level 3 (over 6,000 gallons per month) $ 9.93 per thousand gallons
Level 4 (over 9,000 gallons per month) $13.24 per thousand gallons

How much would these rates increase if they were to choose the carbon filtration system instead of adding chloramines?

Chlormines in Charlottesville’s drinking water are yet another reason to live in Crozet:

Starting in 2014, the RWSA intends to replace chlorine with chloramines as the second step in the water treatment process, a project with capital costs of $5 million. The water treatment plants in Crozet and Scottsville, however, are recommended to receive a carbon filtration system with continued use of chlorine.



From chloramine.org:

Chloramine however is different. It is the result of mixing chlorine with ammonia. Have you ever read the label on a bottle of bleach or ammonia? The directions carry a prominent warning not to mix these two chemicals together. The result is a dangerous chemical called monochloramine that is a form of nerve gas, and besides being toxic, is very irritating to the skin and mucous membranes.
 

So if monochloramine is so dangerous, why is it added to drinking water? One reason is that it is added in very small amounts. While it is not as effective as chlorination, the chemical DOES NOT dissipate from water. Because there is less chlorine present, chloramines have a lower potential to form carcinogenic by-products – or so we were told.

But hey, we trust the EPA. Right?

If you want a well dug, contact me; I know a great company in Charlottesville.

Update 31 May 2012:

Neil Williamson at the Free Enterprise Forum has a post today about the chloramine decision and not-yet-implemented chloramines.

If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%.  This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion.

From my perspective:

1 – I’d be much more comfortable paying more for safe drinking water.
2 – I’d also be more comfortable with a decision of this magnitude being made after substantive public discussion.

Update 3 June 2012:

A very informative (I think it’s informative, not propaganda … I’m no expert; I’m learning as you are) comment at Charlottesville Tomorrow’s site says, in part:

If you look at the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) on monochloramine (the a species of chloramine used to disinfect tap water), you will see they NEVER did studies for respiratory, skin, or digestive symptoms from chloraminated tap water. You’ll see there aren’t enough studies on the carcinogenicity of monochloramine for the EPA to determine if it causes cancer, and the little that they do have shows it does. You’ll see there are no epidemiological studies. All they have is anecdotal evidence that chloramine is safe in tap water. All they can say is that no one’s ever reported any health problems from chloraminated water and it’s been used in Denver since the Stone Age. Denver, by the way, used 0.8 mg/L in their tap water for taste and odor control ONLY until 2005, which is massively less than the 1.5 – 4.0 mg/L used today in water systems, including Denver.

Since there are no studies for doctors to refer to, none of them can find out if it’s possibly chloraminated tap water causing their patients’ respiratory, skin, or digestive symptoms. With the EPA, health departments, state agencies all claiming that chloramine is completely safe, how would it EVER dawn on ANYONE that it could be their tap water causing their bloody diarrhea, inability to breathe or skin lesions? We are taught to TRUST these entities.

Update 4 June 2012, from an email I just received:

From the Orange County Register:

SANTA ANA – Two homebuilders have filed complaints in Orange County Superior Court claiming drinking water provided by two South County water districts is corroding copper plumbing, resulting in leaks that require hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.
Shapell Industries filed a complaint Nov. 2, alleging water delivered by Moulton Niguel Water District to Shapell homes in two Laguna Niguel communities – San Joaquin Hills and Hillcrest – was treated with chloramine, a disinfectant Shapell claimed is known to cause pinhole leaks in copper pipes.

Homebuilder Shapell Industries has filed a complaint against Moulton Niguel Water District alleging water provided by the district is causing leaks in plumbing in houses built by Shapell.

The complaint states Shapell “will be forced to repair and replace plumbing in over 400 homes” in those developments. The complaint does not specify how many homes actually had leaks. The developer is seeking more than $20 million in damages, citing product liability, negligence, private nuisance and breach of warranty.


Update 8 June 2012 … I received this email from Dane Madsen of Blue Earth Labs the other day and am posting it with permission and am identifying the author so that his acknowledged biases are known.

I enjoyed (your blog post on chloramines).  It’s is a sane approach to finding facts, of which there are many, and talking about the risks, also of which there are many.  A couple more to consider are that chloramines have been connected to genotoxicity/DNA damage and are the number one cause of workplace asthma.  If you have time and need help sleeping, I can forward you two papers on those subjects.  The fact is that chloramines generate by-products that are much, much worse than the by-products they are purported to control.  
 

My interest in the subject is two-fold: my goddaughter lives in Charlottesville (although is on a well) so I have had coffee at the Mud House many times, and I am CEO of a company that approaches the issue that the water authority is trying to cure – EPA Stage 2 DBP Rule – that is significantly less expensive than either chloramines or GAC. 

Dane said, in response to my asking permission to post his comment:

You may…   Here is a link to my comments in our company blog about chloramines.  I am not an engineer nor a chemist. Just “an office boy” that reads a lot so try to source my opinions to things I have read, not just heard.    

The more I read and think about this, the less I am confident sufficient information is known to choose to move forward with chloramines in Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Update 11 June 2012: Lisa Provence has an excellent article at the HooK – Questioning Authority: RWSA chloramine plan stirs water fears

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  • Lld3jster

    Hi Jim,
    For more information on chloramines see these websites:
    http://chloramineinfocenter.net/
    http://www.chloramine.org/
    good luck in your research of this stuff.

  • l lyon

    Jim,
     Selling a house in a chloramine-free area would be is a real positive aspect.  Think of all of the expense of replacing plumbing and appliances you would avoid.  Think of all the expensive whole house water filters you wouldn’t need.  Chloramine-contaminated water means you can’t have an aquarium, or a pond in your yard.  You couldn’t wash your car outside, because the water running into the storm sewer would kill everything downstream.  You wouldn’t have to worry about lead poisoning in your kids.  

  • terry hawkins

    If chloramines are implemented, this will be a huge problem for homeowners.  If your pipes are old, you will get lead in your water from the solder.  If your pipes are new, you will still get lead in your water, from the “lead free” (containing up to 8% lead) brass fittings.  There are lawsuits pending now, developers suing the water authority, for extremely premature failure of copper pipes in new developments, from chloramine corrosion.  Water damage to homes will be catastrophic.  Real Estate agents are going to get requests to show houses in “chloramine-free” neighborhoods.

    Let your elected reps at city council and albemarle board of supervisors know what you think of this ill-conceived plan!  
    council@charlottesville.org 
    bos@albemarle.org 
    rwsaboardmembers@rivanna.org

  • Lld3jster

    Please sign the petition asking RWSA not to implement chloramine
    http://signon.org/sign/rwsa-do-not-use-chloramines?source=c.em.cp&r_by=165880

  • Ellenpowell911

    From speaking directly with them, we know the EPA is completely aware that chloramine is causing respiratory, skin, eye, and digestive symptoms (some life threatening) everywhere it goes into public water supplies. Over 1,000 people (so far) with these symptoms have been documented by citizens groups in CA, SC, NY, PA, and VT,  from about 30 states. These people never had a a problem with chlorine. EPA is studiously avoiding this huge problem.

    EPA is aware of the fact that studies on the skin, respiratory, or digestive studies on chloramine as a water disinfectant have never been done. Neither have any epidemiological studies. EPA ASSUMED that chloramine was the same as chlorine, and substituted chlorine studies for risk assessment for chloramine, which is a very different chemical, and MUCH more toxic. It shows in their Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) monochloramine (the species of chloramine being put into our water). EPA has an IRIS on many chemicals. They look at all available literature and makes a determination of how poisonous a chemical is. They didn’t bother to look at digestive effects, which are horrific. For skin and inhalant risks of monochloramine, the information is “unavailable.” And EPA cannot determine whether or not chloramine is carcinogenic, due to a lack of studies. Of the few studies that do exist, it shows chloramine to be carcinogenic. 

    http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0644.htm

    Watch Vermonters testify to EPA and CDC officials about their skin, respiratory, and digestive symptoms in 2007. In January 2008, the CDC issued its report, which acknowledges data gaps exist on the health effects of chloramine in tap water, and calls for further study. http://www.vce.org/chloraminevideos.html

    By far, the WORST aspect of this nightmare is the horrific symptoms chloramine causes. I talked to over 300 people in my Vermont water district, who reported skin, eye, respiratory, and/or digestive symptoms to the citizen group, People Concerned About Chloramine. It was beyond heartbreaking.

  • Ellenpowell911

    Monochloramine is the species of chloramine used for water disinfection. From the EPA IRIS on monochlroramine (http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0644.htm)

    __II.A.1. Weight-of-Evidence Characterization
    Classification — D; not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity__II.A.2. Human Carcinogenicity Data
    Inadequate.__II.A.3. Animal Carcinogenicity Data
    Inadequate. 
    _II.B. Quantitative Estimate of Carcinogenic Risk from Oral Exposure
    Not available.
    _VI.B. Inhalation RfD References
    None
    _II.C. Quantitative Estimate of Carcinogenic Risk from Inhalation Exposure
    Not available.

  • Art Nesten

    The sewer cost is the expensive portion of my water/sewer bill, not the water.  I assume this should not affect the cost of sewage treatment.  A 25-35% increase in the water portion would not be much.

    • http://www.realcentralva.com Jim Duncan

      Art – I absolutely agree about the cost. We as a people value cheap much too much, without much thought as to the consequences.