In response to concerns about the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s decision to use chloramines as a secondary water disinfectant, an informational meeting will be held Thursday. The event, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building-McIntire, will feature a diverse panel of water treatment experts.
The RWSA’s Safe Water Symposium will include experts that can speak both for and against chloramines and who can provide information on alternative approaches and costs.
The RWSA has asked Dwight Flammia, a toxicologist with the Virginia Department of Health; Jerry Higgins, superintendant manager of the Blacksburg-area water authority, which currently uses chloramines; Jim Moore, a professional engineer with the VDH; Ben Stanford, director of applied research at the RWSA; consultant Hazen and Sawyer; and Steve Vaya from the Washington, D.C., office of the American Waterworks Association to sit on the panel.
Other panelists include Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering professor who studied the correlation between Washington’s use of chloramines and its problems with lead leaching; Robert Bowcock, the environmental investigator for Integrated Resource Management; and Susan Pickford of the Chloramines Information Center.
Bowcock works with Erin Brockovich, the activist who challenged California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company about chromium contamination of groundwater. A frequent speaker around the country on water safety, Bowcock said his involvement in the Charlottesville-Albemarle water supply is related to the size of the area impacted.
“We do like to work with larger communities that are being impacted by chloramines because if we can have a larger community not use chloramines, their decision can impact the smaller communities,” Bowcock said. “It’s more bang for our buck.”
Chloramines became a contentious issue when the RWSA decided to replace traditional chlorine with chloramines as a way to meet new standards applied under Stage 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s disinfectant byproduct rule. Local residents and some elected officials have said there should have been more information available in advance of the February decision.
Chloramines are created by combining chlorine and ammonia. Although they are approved by the EPA, some worry about the potentially corrosive nature of the chemical and its ability to persist in water supplies.
Bowcock said residents should be concerned about the addition of chloramines to the water supply.
“There are so many different aspects to the negative impacts of chloramines,” Bowcock said. “The initial would be the health impacts associated with the use of chloramines. Secondary would be the property damage.”
Consulting firm Hazen and Sawyer was hired to research options that would allow the RWSA to meet the EPA’s requirements. The requirements must be met by 2014 or the RWSA risks up to $25,000 of fines for every day it is not in compliance. The capital costs associated with chloramination is $5 million and the next most-affordable option is granular-activated carbon filtration, which would cost $18.3 million.
Despite its recommendation to the RWSA, Hazen and Sawyer does not recommend chloramines usage to all of its clients. For example, they completed a study for New York City in which they decided the addition of chloramines was unnecessary and their disinfectant byproducts could be reduced in other ways.
The RWSA says it is not opposed to exploring other secondary disinfection methods.
“We recently asked Hazen and Sawyer to investigate if there are possibilities for us to phase or intermittently operate their proposed granular-activated carbon filtration system and still meet Stage 2 compliance,” said Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the RWSA’s executive director. “They are evaluating this; we should be receiving a response from them before the public meeting.”
Bowcock also said he is familiar with several localities that discontinued the use of chloramines — Poughkeepsie, N.Y., being among them.
“We no longer use it,” Randy Alstadt, plant administrator for Poughkeepsie’s Water Treatment Facility, confirmed. “We tried it for about five years and we had problems in the distribution system.”
Alstadt said Poughkeepsie, a city that has an older distribution system, experienced problems with eroding gaskets and customers complained of discolored water.
“We never had any violations in our distribution system, but we had to flush it frequently [with chlorine],” Alstadt said. “We could never win.”
As to the claims about chloramines causing skin irritations, Alstadt said that did happen.
“One of the members of our water board ended up with rashes after we switched to chloramines,” Alstadt said.
However, many other areas throughout the country use chloramines as a secondary water disinfectant without reports of negative health effects. Seventy-six percent of Virginians use chloraminated water, including the city of Richmond.
“We actually have been using them for over 50 years,” said Angela Fountain, public information manager for Richmond’s department of public utilities.
Chloramines also have been known to leach lead from pipes under the right circumstances. Edwards, one of Thursday’s panelists, participated in a study that linked Washington’s increased lead levels in children to the addition of chloramines.
The RWSA maintains that if the chemistry of the water is correctly monitored and if corrosion inhibitors are added appropriately, lead leaching will not be a problem.
In addition, Frederick said that RWSA customers do not need to worry about the addition of corrosion inhibitors to counteract the effects of chloramines. Frederick says that corrosion inhibitors are phosphate compounds that are safe for consumption.
“Everything that goes in our drinking water as a part of water treatment has been approved by the Virginia Department of Health,” Frederick said. “[Corrosion inhibitors are] already added to our water now, and we would recommend it continue even if granular-activated carbon filtration were used.”
In addition, the RWSA does not believe the addition of chloramines will negatively impact growing local industries such as breweries or biotechnology research.
“There are no adverse effects and there may be positive economic benefits by comparison to other options for achieving Stage 2 compliance,” Frederick said. “We understand that biotechnology research and breweries require specialized added treatment to the existing public water to meet their specialized needs, and would continue to do so regardless of which new alternative is selected, and their overall costs of operation may be lower if the cost they pay for the public water is less.”
Frederick added that Boston and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, both major biotechnology centers, also use chloraminated water.
The public information session will allow audience members to ask questions of the panelists during the second hour. A final decision on the water treatment approach is expected to be made at a meeting of the “four boards” one to three weeks after the event. The four boards are all the entities responsible for the local water supply — the RWSA, the Albemarle County Service Authority, Charlottesville’s City Council and Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors.
In advance of the RWSA forum, local opponents of chloramines have scheduled an information session of their own. Sponsored by Transition Charlottesville-Albemarle, the group will gather for a “teach-in” in the McIntire Room at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library on Market Street from 6:30 to 8:45 tonight to allow residents to learn more about chloramine risks.