Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Chloramine Debate

Kenneth M. O’Brien

I have been approached by a number of people to openly state my opposition to the introduction of chloramines into the Southbridge water supply.

I cannot do this.

The truth of the matter is that I do not believe that it is as open and shut an issue as some would like you to believe.

I cannot but help being reminded of the battle that raged from the 1950’s over the introduction of fluoride into America’s water supplies.

This is also an issue that has gained increased currency of late, despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control consider it "one of the 10 great public-health achievements of the 20th century."

In an effort to foster a balanced discussion of the chloramine controversy, rather than taking a hardline position, I will provide readers with a synopsis of the views on both sides of the issue.

The first is the argument against chloramines as put forward by the Concerned Citizens About Chloramine, This is summarized on their website under the heading Chloramine Facts.

On the other side of the coin is the position put forward by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their views are expressed in the document Chloramine Q&A’s

I hope that such a balanced presentation will at least contribute to an intelligent debate on the subject, rather than a devolution into hysteria like that which once surrounded the discussion about fluorides (which is heating up again).


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I blame bored people worried about 'toxins' and don't know how chemical bonds work. That and the communist plot to corrupt our precious bodily fluids. These are the same folks that are bringing back measles because Jenny McCarthy told them vaccines cause autism.

  3. Hey, I vaccinate both my kids. STFU.

  4. I've said it before and I'll say it again. My primary concern is lead. Lead is 100% proven to be detrimental to health, and it's proven to show up in the water at a higher rate in communities that switch to Chloramine for secondary disinfection.

    I'm not a crank, I'm just smart. I know the venn diagram overlaps on those two populations fair amount around here, but I don't feel like I'm anywhere near tinfoil hat territory on this issue.

  5. The Canadian EPA does state that Chloramines are highly toxic for fish if it gets in the water:

    They do use this for their water treament however as I googled this and found the city of Ottawa uses Chloramines:

    As do many other Countries, states, towns, etc.

    I did google Montreal and did find an article on the "Ozonation" treatment for their water:

    I understand this type of water treatment is very expensive.

    I will state that I was concerned at first, however the more I read (and yes on both sides too) the more I am okay with this.

    Did you know that there are chloramines in chlorinated swimming pools? Interesting:

  6. Hey, Monique! Nice to see you around here! I was wondering, what's your take on the lead issue? I mean, as a mom of two babies I obviously have concerns about lead corrosion in my pipes affecting their blood lead levels, but as a landlord here in Southbridge I'm concerned I may be exposed to liability issues as well. (One of my tenants is a single mom with a 3 year old daughter!)

    Also, I'd be curious as to whether or not you think I have any reason to be concerned regarding the apparent disregard for the established process for regulatory oversight regarding Southbridge's Chloramine conversion. I think what Mr. Clark did to that nice lady on the BoH at the meeting on Tuesday seemed awfully unethical, to the point of being outright illegal. Actually, I heard that the State Ethics Commission is looking into it.

    I wonder if our sewage treatment plant has a plan in place to clean the chloramines out of our wastewater, or if they're just going to dump the chloramines into the Quinebaug River.

    I also wonder why high-quality water treatment strategies are expensive but borrowing $240 million dollars to buy trash cans for everybody in town is a good investment.

    I also wonder why anybody would be okay with a stronger, more-persistent form of swimming pool chemicals in our drinking water.

  7. The bottom line is that the health department did not support this due to the controversy surrounding it... and the town council did not vote for it either. Seems like the town dictator made that decision all by himself. I resent the fact that I am going to be forced to buy bottled water, since readily available filters do NOT remove this chemical... and I do not have thousands of $ to spend on a whole house system. The bigger problem are the byproducts that form in the water, for example nitrosamines, many of them carcinogenic. Why the hell do I have to buy bottled water when our water rates are already very high, the water should be safe to drink for everyone!? Even drinking bottled water won't prevent us from absorbing the toxins through our skin and inhale them while we shower/bathe.

  8. Amealia,

    I merely stated how I felt.

    I am more concerned about the lead based paint in the older know even if you cover it with today's paint, there is still lead in the home. How about the asbestos in the older homes too?

    I don't ever hear anyone say anything about these issues, (however you should just leave the asbestos alone if you can.)

    These are issues that face our town, yet no one addresses them. How many people do work in their homes and and think because they cover the lead paint up it is okay to scrape...or sand?

    We live in a town that has older buildings, we chose to live here. All I hear most of the time is the one side, the opposing side. I hardly ever see anyone presenting both sides, just the sides that they want the people to see.

    Like the remark you made that Canada EPA finds Chloarmines Highly Toxic, well you left out for "fish".

    It wasn't 240 million dollars for trash cans it was borrowing 240 thousand.

    This isn't about what happened at Tuesdays' Meeting or the SMART Cart.

    Have a good day!

  9. Oh, in the interest of being thorough, here's a link to the PDF version of the 2007 Duke University study I referenced at Citizen's Forum as well:

    (It's from a peer-reviewed Environmental Health journal, so I don't think the scientists at Duke are cranks either.)

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  11. Well, this isn't about lead paint either. The town is planning on adding something to the water that wasn't in there before! So your logic is, there is already lead in the paint of older homes, so lets add a bit of lead through the water?

  12. If Chris Clark and the Water Dept. do not bring this before the BOH and get a vote in favor of it BEFORE the conversion, they are violating State Law and opening themselves and the town up to a major class action lawsuit. A lawsuit that will happen. They will also need to have approval from both the Charlton BOH and the Sturbridge BOH and be sure all residents in those communities have been notified or they can be sued by those respective boards and the residents from these other communities.

    The Town of Southbridge doesn't need this type of treatment, we can continue using Chlorine and make a few minor adjustments. This is strictly to provide treated water to Charlton after Clark forgot about this issue in his grade school level deal making.

    It is amazing that no matter what the deal is that Clark brokers, the town of Southbridge loses out while other communities make out. We have less and less money, more and more taxes, more and more paid employees who live elsewhere, worse property values, more crime, fewer businesses.

    All this man is is empty slogans. Nothing gets better. It's never been a worse time to live here in the history of this town, and that's a shame considering we're paying this guy what the governor of MA is making.

  13. No Anja, I was pointing out the fact that Amelia was worried about the lead pipes but no seems to be worried about the lead paint. Please do not twist my words around.

    Amelia, it is always a pleasure!

    Take care!

  14. Unleaded Water PleaseAugust 4, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    The main issue with lead paint is that when it would peel, some children would eat teh chips. And as someone stated, it is a risk if you are sanding it or scraping it off, because it gets in the air. Lead is not a risk if it is isolated. In fact, there is lots of lead in stained glass windows and lamps, but because people aren't licking the windows, such a use is not a danger to anyone except those people making the stained glass.

    I'm sick of Mister Clark putting me and my loved ones at risk so he can have more money to spend with occasional abandon-I am rather sure he would not allow chloramines if his wife and children lived here and had to drink the water and shower here.

    This may sound petty, but Monique and other ladies in town should make note of the fact that chloramines will turn dyed blonde hair green, and it is also more difficult to bleach your hair blonde from another color because of the way the ammonia influences the chlorine, but that old lady green effect remains.

    It is true that if people urinate in a pool, it will create chloramines ,and they are a more dangerous form. This is why peeing in a pool is discouraged, especially in indoor pools.

    But as it has already been stated here, the issue is what chloramines release into our water-toxic carcinogenic lead. There are lead couplings that remain in our old town water system's pipes, and there is lead solder in most of our homes with copper pipes. Mr. o'Brien is very intelligent and can afford to lose some of his mental capacity, but I shudder at the thought of some of our Councilors trying to make decisions with an ever lower capacity. One of the Councilors already can't even count out five minutes without difficulty.

    Oil companies can no longer put lead in our gas, but Mr. Clark can introduce a chemical that releases lead into our drinking water? As long as you don't eat your paint, it is safer to live in a home with every wall covered with lead paint than it is to drink water with lead in it. Lead is also bioaccumulative, and tends to enter and remain in the fatty tissues, which means that breast cancer levels WILL increase in Southbridge ( and Charlton) so 600 people in Charlton can have water?

    Using chloramine saves the town a little money, but it doesn't save the townspeople a lot of money. The cost of liver and kidney treatment in the near term and the cost of cancer treatments in the future, the cost of increased ignorance due to dulled brain should be a no brainer.

    The rate increases that have been approved for our water and sewer allows the Town manager to have an additional Million dollar a year to increase salaries, hire lawyers to come up with the desired opinions, and purchase equipment, some needed, some of it not needed at all. There is more than enough surplus money made by the water department-over a million-to comply with the DEP rules without putting us at risk!

    Monique thinks the safer alternatives are too expensive, but the total cost annually would be less than the salary of Mr. Clark and Mr. Morin combined. I say allow another town to appreciate the questionable cost cutting skills of Misters Morin and Clark, and provide us water without lead instead.

  15. Monique,

    Actually there are laws in place to deal with the lead paint issue and it is taken very, very seriously:

    The equivalent here would be this: Let's say they are remodeling a school here in Southbridge. The Board of Health says we need time to analyze and determine whether there's a lead poison or asbestos issue to protect our workers and kids and the town manager tells the construction team to ignore their decision and start tearing down the walls.

  16. Sorry Monique - Adding more toxins is not a good thing, no matter how you "twist" it.

  17. Monique, before I rented an apartment to my single mama tenant, I had a woman from an environmental agency come to my property and test my building with a lead detector gun. She gave me a giant 50 page report about it afterwards, & said everything looked fine.

    I really do my best to be a responsible landlord for the people who live in my building. I know I was legally required to get the lead testing done because of the age of my prospective tenant's daughter, but honestly, I would have done it anyway.

    I know there are a lot of other property owners in town who aren't as conscientious as I am, and yes, I bet there are already a bunch of children in town living in rental units without lead certificates. The prospect of additional lead exposure in these children is really bothering me a whole lot. Children can't help where they live, or what's in the water they drink. That's our job.

  18. If they don't like it-MOVE !

  19. Excellent analogy Will.

  20. Who cares about toxins? Will it make the Fair plaza stink less on a hot day?

  21. "We live in lead painted buildings."

    Yes, but I can choose whether to be an IDIOT and sand the paint and breathe the lead. In this case, someone has said, "We are going to make you sand the paint and breathe the lead. Your children will probably get brain damage but don't worry, the EPA says that "sanding things" is safe and only worry about your fish. And, oh, by the way, we're going to make you pay more this year than previous years for said paint-boarding. What do you mean the board of health didn't approve this? Doesn't matter; it's a management decision. We'll send out shiny flyers soon to let 'everyone' know. Hope you don't rent or speak english! Adios!!"

  22. Ken, I agree with your logic and as always your critical view is spot on. However, I must point out a flaw that I believe, as a liberal, you would appreciate.

    The official authorities are using regulations that, as you and I know, are partially written by lobbyists. Lobbying during the regulation authoring period is an even bigger, more-manned business than that for Congress. Take "USDA Organic". Organic used to mean that it was organic. It either was exposed to chemicals, or not. The lobbyists get involved and convince the USDA that "Organic" means that it has only a little bit of chemicals. Now that label means nothing.

    As you said, we must weigh all of what we know and then arrive to a decision. But in this case, we must also question the purity of some of the information that we get. We know that pure water doesn't cause health issues. We know that Chloramine is toxic. We know that it is a corrosive that will release lead if lead exists. We know that there isn't a concensus on whether using it in our water is completely safe.

    That's enough info for me to apply the Precautionary Principle. That is "that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action." It's what I believe any community -- at least the ones which put public health over economic health -- should prescribe to.

  23. And to be fair, the Concerned Citizens group also has a bias because they've directly experienced health issues that are similar to those caused by exposure to this chemical but there has yet to be a direct cause identified. However, I stand by my thought that in the face of doubt we must force the burden of proof on those seeking to put this in our water. They have not proven it safe.

  24. Unleaded Water PleaseAugust 4, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    All that people are asking for is unleaded water.

    Why is that unreasonable?

  25. If any chemical is to be added to the public water supply that a human will be consuming then the citizens of that community should have some involvement in the decision. Having two different decisions in regards to the effect of chloramines with neither side a definite answer I think a reasonable person would show caution against its use. Why would someone choose to consume something that hasn’t been completely proven not to cause ill effects to their mind and body? It our water there should be public debate through our form of government before it’s added. This is America isn't, it is our water supply isn’t it. To take away the people’s involvement in their own welfare amounts to communism.

    Directed to anonymous “If you don't like it move” Can you imagine if everyone moved when they didn’t like something in the community they lived in? I personally come from stock that fights for their home and family. SO I WILL!!!

  26. The EPA recommends that certain steps be taken to treat the town's water lines to reduce the leaching of lead and copper into our water, and our bodies.

    Has the town followed the recommendations of the EPA?

  27. Read Erin Brockovich's piece on our website:
    It is probably the single best commentary I've seen about the problems with chloramine. No, this is not like fluoride. Chloramine is very reactive and is creating very toxic disinfection byproducts that EPA is aware of, but those byproducts are not regulated and pose more of a risk to human health than the regulated disinfection byproducts of chlorine. The only hysteria I see is from the water system operators who defend chloramine and cite EPA's assurances that it is safe. Common sense is being backed up by good science where the issue of chloramine in drinking water is concerned. Smart water system operators are steering clear of it, knowing that eventually EPA will issue regulations that will make chloramine look like the short-sighted choice that it is.

  28. Chloramines are "safe" only in the same way that they claim high sulfur coal electric plants are safe. The use of high sulfur coal is said to contribute to the early death of over 60,000 Americans a year due to respiratory complications, yet if you complain about such a power plant in your community, the EPA will sing their "don't worry, be happy" song.

    Vermonter, thank you for the link that you provided.

  29. Vermonter and JP reaffirm my point. That the government organizations meant to regulate have been manipulated to the point where we no longer can follow blindly. Under Bush, they were practically starved, or stacked with industry people. When in doubt, error on the safe side.

  30. JP, I saw the lovely flowers you have planted-do you make essential oil from them?

    Should we be concerned what chloramines will do to our gardens?

  31. A Southbridge Town Council meeting in Sturbridge on the day of the Pan Mass Challenge?

    Wow! That IS Nixonian.

    Halderman played by Detective Roettger (sp?)

    Ehlichmann played by Chief Charette

    Robert Bork by played Mr. Caprera,

    John Mitchell played by Councilor Clemence.

    Martha Mitchel played by Monique Manna

    John Dean ( We need one fairly bad.)

    Nixon played by Mr. Christopher Clark

    Spiro Agnew played by Councilor Nikolla

  32. Celeste, you look more like Martha Stewart than I do.

    I don't believe chloramines will kill off your plants, but I am worried about the soil microbes, the worms, and the way chloramines could ruin organic certification.

    Get a rain barrel if you can.

  33. Yes, chloramine can cause serious problems. Some, like me, have terrible skin rashes, some have digestive problems, some respiratory, some all three. I cannot use our chloraminated tap water--period. Please see for more info. Yes, lead contamination is an issue, especially if there are lead pipes or brass fittings anywhere in the water system. It's a nasty chemical.
    BNord, Palo Alto, CA

  34. The water tastes AWFUL tonight-much worse than I expected. The water department says it hasn't started yet, but it has a metallic taste and it is discolored.

  35. You RATS and some of the others people have been right about Chris Clark all along. I feel like a guinea pig, I feel a deep sense of betrayal by Mr. Clark and the Council. Even worse than betrayal-I feel violated.

    Whatever they are doing with the water, be it a pretreatment or the actual ammonia, this MUST stop!

  36. For our new commenters that are finally getting the real story, please join UNITED SOUTHBRIDGE to fight this. Find out more at or Facebook. We'll get you on our notification list. Become outraged! Become active!

  37. Hey about time you people get on the band wagon with the water issue... problem is you are to late you should have been involved a long time ago when it was put forward by a few residents back in Feb. Even when it was brought to the BOH they had no idea about what to do. They were even asked by a resident to take action against the town and they usually with people from Southbridge you wait way to late to get involved. WAKE UP SOUTHBRIDGE smell the coffee. You dont need any group like FOS or United Southbridge just do something by your self get INVOLVED

  38. Do we need a group like US ? No, it is much easier with them though. I don't see FoS as a real grass roots group-it has a "just wink at the real problems" agenda. He, not grass roots-astro turf.

    I hope when these health issues are resolved that United Southbridge advocates for a one-time library Amnesty for all town residents under the age of 18-it contributes to a minor degree to our high drop out rate.

    Bug, it isn't too late for anything, the EPA will be phasing ammonia out of water supplies except during extreme emergencies, but not soon enough. This is not rocket science.

    Less cancer causing chemicals are good.

    Less lead is good.

    Copper in large quantities are bad.

    There is no need to rush.

  39. Chloramines in Southbridge’s water supply is there through the actions of the town manager and the town council; not the inaction of the citizens. Reasonable notification to the community and open discussion about chloramines would have been at the very least acceptable. This isn’t turning the street lights off early.

    Unless someone has been to a United Southbridge meeting they shouldn’t speaking about its validity! A good rule of thumb: never speak about something you have no knowledge of. If you are tired of the crap, willing to put aside your politics to help this town out, would like to see what US is all about please come! With this current town counsel more can be accomplished working together than acting alone


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