With rising public interest, information session scheduled on chloramines debate

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.

At its meeting Tuesday, the RWSA board of directors discussed concerns raised by local residents about potential negative health impacts of the new treatment process.

Kathleen M. Galvin, Charlottesville City Council

The board also received a detailed seven-page memo from its executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr. , addressing 13 issues raised by the public at last month’s meeting.

“I would hope what we could have is a dialogue that allows for the exchange of information,” Frederick said. “What we are trying to do here is inform the public on an option that we believe, the EPA believes, the Virginia Department of Health believes, is an acceptable option.”

The meeting will be held in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building -McIntire. Questions from the public will be accepted in writing at the meeting and may be submitted in advance via the RWSA website.

A public hearing on the issue also will be held at a separate meeting of the “four boards” responsible for the local water supply — the RWSA, the Albemarle County Service Authority, Charlottesville’s City Council and Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors. That meeting has not been scheduled, but is expected to occur in late June or early July.

“We’ve stated as many times as we possibly can … that a thorough study was done on the options,” Frederick said. “What EPA is doing is they’re changing the rules by which byproducts have to be measured in the distribution system and what constitutes compliance with drinking water standards.”

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.

As first reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow, the RWSA board approved the treatment method in February. Since then, the elected officials on the board have been inundated with emails raising questions about the practice and the merits of alternative approaches.

“We’re hearing from people that have had a bad reaction to chloraminated water,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who wondered if it had any similarity to reactions like those of a peanut allergy. “Is there any kind of information, through our consultants or others, that talks about massive reactions in a community, where they have this, where hundreds or thousands of people are impacted?”

Frederick told the board that 76 percent of Virginians consume chloraminated water and that there are no statistics indicative of “acute health effects” in these communities.

“Ken and I have been talking about really understanding what EPA’s minimum criteria is for compliance,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin , who questioned the 100 percent attainment goal. “If you are in compliance 90 percent of the time with your existing water supply, is there some recognition that you don’t need to go to this next huge step?”

“The EPA has published regulations with the intent that utilities should comply all the time,” said Frederick, who noted that the RWSA would have to publish notices of violations. “You can have lost confidence with the community when you are publishing … that you have violated the law in some respect, so that’s why we feel the bar should be set high.”

The June 21 chloramines information session will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and will feature a panel of six experts identified by the RWSA most of whom are not advocates for a particular water treatment approach. Frederick said he also is open to inviting an activist for the panel who could argue against chloramination.

In other business, the RWSA adopted its fiscal year 2013 operating budget, but the city’s delegation expressed frustration that a June 30 deadline would not be met on finalizing a new cost-sharing arrangement with the ACSA on wastewater services. A costly sewer pump station project is currently being engineered and the city and county said they are both anxious to negotiate a payment formula.

Gary O’Connell, the ACSA’s executive director, said his board was actively discussing the matter.

Earlier in the day, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority also met and set June 26 as the date for a public hearing on its fiscal year 2013 budget. The authority manages the Ivy Material Utilization Center, remediation of the retired Ivy Landfill , and government recycling programs at the Ivy and McIntire Road facilities. Tipping fees and operating hours are unchanged in the proposed budget.

The monthly meetings of both boards will return to the authorities’ headquarters at Moores Creek effective in June.