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.