The future plans for treating public drinking water dominated Tuesday’s meeting of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority . However, the plan to introduce chloramines as a new disinfectant wasn’t even on the board’s meeting agenda.
Chloramines disinfection equipment in Los Angeles, CA
Download recent chloramine documentation
March 9, 2012 memo summarizing basis for chloramines project
July 2011 Executive Summary from consultant Hazen and Sawyer
EPA background information on chloramines
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Chemical engineer briefs ACSA on chloramines , April 21, 2012, by Sean Tubbs
RWSA makes case for adding chloramines to water supply , April 4, 2012, by Courtney Beale
Safety of chloramines questioned: Disinfectant to be added into local water supply starting in 2014 , March 13, 2012, by Courtney Beale & Brian Wheeler
Albemarle warns of rising sewer costs and continues to question move of pump station , February 29, 2012, by Brian Wheeler
It was comments by two Charlottesville city councilors and two concerned citizens that sparked the board’s discussion of the chloramines project it approved in February. They secured a commitment to a June public information session to allow for more input before the chloramines project moves much further ahead.
The local chloramines debate has gotten the attention of activists in other parts of the country too, including the team working with Erin Brockovich, the woman who famously took on California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company for chromium contamination of groundwater.
Robert W. Bowcock, an environmental investigator with Integrated Resource Management who works with Brockovich, said chloramine is quickly becoming a national issue. That’s in part because of recent changes in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that the RWSA says require action before October 2014.
“It’s a national problem and we have been receiving concerns from many of the communities near clean-up sites around the country that Erin’s involved in,” Bowcock said in an interview. “Erin Brockovich and I are getting involved because these stage 2 EPA regulations are just hitting now.”
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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 authority says it is being compelled by tougher EPA regulations, and that chloramines are the best bang for the treatment buck.
Charlottesville residents Lorrie Delehanty and Dr. Julia Whiting found themselves on the front lines of the debate during Tuesday’s public comment period before the RWSA board.
Whiting, a physician in emergency medicine, said she was concerned about potential health consequences of using chloramines as an additional disinfectant.
“Chloramines are a well-known pulmonary, neurologic and [gastrointestinal] toxin,” Whiting said. “The chloramine byproducts are carcinogenic … we don’t even know that much about these byproducts, but what we do know is that they are highly toxic.”
“It seems to have been rushed along without a lot of discussion by the public,” Delehanty said after the meeting. “We need to inform people because it’s an issue that will affect every one of us.”
They both came armed with talking points and lessons from other communities provided by the Chloramine Information Center, a Pennsylvania-based clearinghouse co-founded by Susan Pickford.
Bowcock describes Pickford as “one of the top chloramine activists in the country.” Pickford lost a battle to prevent chloramines from being used in her community. She said she now avoids using her own water as much as possible.
“The only thing I use tap water for is for washing clothes and dishes, and I do that as sparingly as possible,” Pickford said. “We also have to take showers, but we take [quick military] showers.”
Pickford says the science is “unanimously” behind her when she argues communities should seek alternatives to chloramines because of risks to human health and safety.
“For five years, we have been asking for one peer-reviewed study that refutes what our 50 peer-reviewed studies say,” Pickford said about her local water authority. “They haven’t produced one.”
Pickford and Bowcock both said they have discussed coming to Charlottesville to meet with local officials.
“We are willing to come down and consult with the city and share information and provide alternatives,” Bowcock said. “We get really distraught when people throw in the towel and just say they don’t have any choice but to do this.”
City Councilor Dede Smith also spoke during public comment to encourage consideration of alternatives, specifically reducing the organic compounds in the water before it gets treated, an approach that lessens the potential for chemicals to produce harmful byproducts.
“Let’s ask the question, should we really be looking at changing something else before we start adding chloramines to our water,” Smith asked.
The RWSA’s executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr. , along with consultants from Hazen and Sawyer, have responded in recent meetings that some alternatives suggested by the public would be insufficient or much more expensive than chloramines, which the RWSA maintains can be added safely.
“If you take the time to understand how the [EPA] stage 1 averages are required to be calculated, and how the stage 2 averages are required to be calculated, you cannot come to the conclusion that we can consistently meet stage 2 [requirements],” Frederick said. “A decision to do nothing is a … setup for failure, and a setup to violate the law.”
City Councilor, Kathy Galvin , Charlottesville’s elected official on the RWSA board, joined City Manager Maurice Jones in suggesting that the RWSA hold an informational forum. The idea that was endorsed by the board and the meeting is expected to be held in June.
“It is our responsibility as elected officials to be as transparent and as accountable as possible,” Galvin said. “We all agreed at the last council meeting that we wanted an information forum that would include Hazen and Sawyer, but we do believe that we need the alternative viewpoint presented at that forum, as well.”