Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chloramine issues leave water safety less than crystal clear

As I See It

Chloramine issues leave water safety less than crystal clear

By Patriot-News Op-Ed
April 21, 2010, 5:03AM

Some people believe chloramine in drinking water can cause health problems.

On the day The Patriot-News editorial “It’s OK to drink up” was published (April 8), I was again fielding calls from Vermont citizens who say they are suffering health problems as a result of drinking chloraminated water.

Since 2006, I have been listening to citizen complaints and trying to assist people suffering from skin rashes, sores and lesions, itchy eyes, dry skin, low energy, diarrhea, vaginal discharges, urinary tract infections, stomachaches, shortness of breath, asthma and other respiratory problems.

All are exposed to chloramine-treated water. None gets relief from doctors. Many have seen their symptoms disappear within days of using nonchloraminated water.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s response to these health issues has been inadequate.
Instead of acknowledging that something has gone wrong, EPA has dug in and continues to promote the use of chloramine, the combination of chlorine and ammonia, as a water disinfectant.

At a recent meeting in Vermont, an EPA staffer reiterated the agency’s position that it believes it’s doing the right thing.

A recent change in EPA water guidelines was supposed to help eliminate the long-term health effects created by the chlorine’s disinfection by-products.

The result of the EPA change has been several water systems, including one in central Pennsylvania, changing from chlorine-treated water to chloramine-treated water.

When I responded that people can filter out chlorine but they cannot filter out chloramine easily, and they are having health problems with chloramine, the EPA’s response is simple: Use a filter.

But it’s not that simple.

One Vermonter is trying to follow that advice. She lives in an apartment complex and is miserable, with itchy eyes, diarrhea, low energy and other health problems that clear up when she goes to New York City, which does not use chloramine.

She and many other Vermonters have done the cause-and-effect experiment enough to prove to themselves that it isn’t in their heads.

She got a quote of $4,200 to install a water filtration system in her apartment.

Then the apartment complex management determined that the filter wouldn’t work on the hot water and is too big for the closet.

The new quote for $10,000 includes knocking out a wall, installing the filter on the cold water line and putting in an electric instant water heater. After all this is done, she still is at risk from eating the food cooked and served at her apartment complex’s dining room, where they cook with chloraminated water.

EPA is beginning to admit there is a sensitive sub-population of people who react to chloramine.

But EPA’s solution, home water filtration, is not realistic.

Many low-income people have no choice but to continue subjecting themselves to chloraminated water because they cannot afford expensive filtration and they cannot afford to buy spring water.

Many people have taken the position of The Patriot-News editorial board dismissing concerns about chloraminated water only to find themselves confronted with friends and family who are suffering problems.

To say that all the questions have been answered is to ignore reports of health problems from chloraminated districts in more than a dozen states as well as the real scientific evidence that is identifying toxic substances that can occur in chloraminated water.

Vermont’s congressional delegation sent a letter to EPA in January asking it to conduct health studies because of the problems Vermonters are experiencing.

No, not everyone is going to get sick from a switch to chloramine. But from my experience in Vermont, I believe some will. Will it be you?

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is a native of Lewisburg. She wrote this while vacationing with her mother in central Pennsylvania.

2 comments:

Irene Holak said...

Hi! I am interested in learning more and helping out on this issue. What can I do to help!?

VERMONTERS FOR A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT said...

Irene, send me an email at vce@vermontel.net. Annette