Residents: Additive chloramine a health concern

Officials cite lack of proof water disinfectant is harmful

BURLINGAME — Chloramine foes and Bay Area water experts agreed Tuesday that further studies need to be done on the long-term health effects of the much-used water disinfectant, but the groups were unable to agree on a feasible way to reach this goal.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission representatives on Tuesday presented preliminary responses to chloramine concerns raised at commission meetings in July and September.

Chloramine has been used as a disinfectant in the SFPUC water system since February 2004, after studies found that byproducts of the previously used disinfectant, chlorine, were carcinogenic. State and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, recommend the use of chloramine instead, according to SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker.

The switch caused an outcry among a small group of residents and prompted the formation of the group Citizens Concerned about Chloramine, the members of which attribute a number of respiratory, digestive and skin problems to chloramine. Some group members, who now rely on bottled water, said that they can no longer drink tap water, shower or wash dishes without having an adverse reaction.

“Your standards are not our concern,” Menlo Park resident and group member Denise Johnson-Kula said. “And that’s the problem.”

Despite continued health complaints, water, environmental and public health experts at the meeting maintained there is no established link between the reported health problems and chloraminated water.

“There is a difference between individual health concerns and public health concerns,” said June Weintraub with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The results of the SFPUC’s review, show that chloramine kills more bacteria than chlorine, having almost completely eliminated the Legionella species of bacteria in the system. Researchers found that regrowth of bacteria on faucets or showerheads — so-called point-of-use devices — would be rare. Furthermore, filtration systems, if the utility would find one that would still meet disinfection regulations, would be very expensive, on the order of billions of dollars in capital spending.

Chlorine and chloramine are currently the only two water disinfectants available, Winnicker said.

Though the utility supports more state or national studies on cost-effective, alternative forms of disinfecting water, Winnicker said there is little interest in performing them because the vast majority of people do not react negatively to chloramine.

“We’re clearly sympathetic and understanding, but (health problems) haven’t happened anywhere else in the world,” Winnicker said,

These findings, shared at the utitlity’s Peninsula office, will be formally presented to the commission at a Nov. 14 meeting.

tramroop@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Recology executives have acknowledged overcharging city ratepayers. (Mira Laing/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)
Recology to repay customers $95M in overcharged garbage fees, city attorney says

San Francisco’s waste management company, Recology, has agreed to repay its customers… Continue reading

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Settlement clears path for all youth, high school sports to resume in California

John Maffei The San Diego Union-Tribune All youth and high school sports… Continue reading

State to reserve 40 percent of COVID-19 vaccines for hard-hit areas

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation State officials said Thursday that… Continue reading

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

Most Read