Anna Eshoo takes up chloramine question
Original post made
on Sep 3, 2007
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has arranged a meeting in early September between local opponents of the water additive chloramine and the federal Environmental Protection Agency — a major victory for the Menlo Park-based group representing hundreds of Bay Area residents who say they've suffered from skin, respiratory and intestinal ailments since the substance was added to the water in 2004.
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posted Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 12:00 AM
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Posted by Paul Harvey
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 9:50 pm
While Mr. Helwing seeks to present himself as a neutral observer and water chemistry expert, he is not:
A quick Google search shows he is a lead activist in the local anti-chloramine group. Furthermore, he is a self-described "former", not active, chemist, who apparently has little or no background/experience in water quality/chemistry.
Furthermore, Mr. Helwing cites toxicity concerns and potential leaching of lead from corrosion as his concerns. While, if true, both would be legitimate health concerns, they have nothing to do with the effects being claimed by the anti-chloramine group - namely rashes and breathing problems.
For folks open to hearing "the rest of this story," here's the staff report given to the SF PUC on this issue last November, which features a report from the staff epidemiologist, who most definitely would be considered an expert on this issue:
One last thing - the Commission supported the staff's findings and who was one of the Commissioners lending such support? None other than Mr. Adam Werbach, who is an environmental activist who founded the Sierra Student Coalition, the United States' largest student-run environmental organization in 1991 and who was subsequently elected as the national president of the Sierra Club in 1996.
Thus the mere fact that the anti-chloramine group was not able to convince the former head of one of the world's leading environmental organizations that there was a legitimate problem here with chloramine speaks volumes as to the validity of the claims being made that these isolated cases are somehow due to chloramine.
8b. Chloramine Report
General Manager Leal presented a brief overview and background related to issues of public interest concerning the use of Chloramines as a disinfectant in the water system. President Sklar noted that this presentation was in response to anecdotal questions and concerns raised by members of the public resulting in the Commissioner's request to staff 10 weeks previously that an expert response be presented to address these issues and concerns. The experts offering responses were identified as Mr. Bruce McGurk from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Ms. Catherine Ma and Mr. David Spath from the California Department of Health Services; Mr. Dean Peterson of the San Mateo Department of Public Health and Ms. June Weintraub from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
The presentation began with information on disinfection. It was reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves disinfections and there are two types, the first to kill pathogens and chlorine is used at all of our facilities. Additionally ozone is used at one treatment plant and there are plans to use UV light at Hetch Hetchy. The available disinfectant choices were identified as chlorine and Chloramine. It was reported that the SFPUC in February 2004, converted to use of chloramines. It was noted that the challenge with disinfection was to provide adequate pathogen kill while minimizing disinfection byproducts. It was reported that chloramines have been around for 90 years and were first used in 1917. Chlorine it was noted has been used since 1908. It was estimated at 29% of community water systems use chloramine and that its use was expected to go up dramatically as a result of new byproduct legislation. A table was presented demonstrating that a lot of utilities in outside of the United States use chloramine - citing Ottawa, Canada, Sydney, Australia, and in Finland. Other American cities using it were identified as Portland, Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Water District, and in the Bay Area, Contra Costa. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) was the last in the Bay Area in 2004 to change to the use of chloramines.
It was noted in preparation for this presentation that many resources and health and regulatory authorities were studied as well as the National Library of Medicine's database which includes thousands of journals and extensive EPA material, the California Department of the Health Services, Health Canada, Environment Canada, the World Health Organization, (WHO) and American Water Works Society and its journal and conference database as well as reports of the International Water Association. Staff reported discussions with the American Water Works research staff and reported that they had peer reviewed what staff had prepared on this topic and agreed that the information reported made sense. Additionally, it was noted that staff spoke with 17 other utilities throughout the country providing a broad cross-section of users such as Philadelphia, Water Resources, of Greater Boston and the Washington Aqueduct in D.C., Tampa, Denver, and several other Bay Area users. It was reported that staff had contacted health and water quality experts, preformed internet searches, reviewed the Department's own records and did chloramine loss and removal tests in our laboratory. In preparation for this presentation it was estimated the PUC spent about six months of staff time, $100,000 doing this comprehensive review of chloramine science. In addition staff met with interested stakeholders on October 31, 2006, and had what was believed to be a helpful and productive meeting. The results of this information based upon our data showed that, chloramine is more effective for disinfection in distribution systems. In response to Commissioner's questions it was noted disinfection in the distribution system is required. It was reported that use of liquid chlorine presents a hazard if released and therefore liquid chlorine was phased out in the late 1990's and the distribution system has continued to see excellent results after conversion to chloromines.
Ms. June Weintraub, an epidemiologist representing the San Francisco Department of Public Health, then discussed some of the health concerns that were raised at previous meetings and described why the balance of evidence showed that there was not any reason to be concerned about chloramines use related public health issues at this time. She noted in summary, that there was no evidence in the medical literature linking chloramine to drinking and bathing water to the health concerns raised. She observed that there was always the possibility that individuals have specific sensitivity to chemicals in the environment, but there is no evidence that these health affects are occurring on the population level. Ms. Weintraub noted that the Department of Public Health recommended that people with individual health concerns discuss these with their doctors. She further noted that conditions that people have described can be caused by any number of underlying conditions and even environmental exposures and it was important for people not to focus on one particular explanation for their health problems, as they could something really important. She reported that local physicians have a mechanism to contact the public health agencies if a physician sees something unusual in their practice, then they can discuss it with public health agencies, and any necessary action can be taken.
Commissioner Werbach applauded the presentation, observing that he had learned a lot and noted that the Commissioners were concerned because of the bad history that led to the passage of the precautionary principle in San Francisco. Commissioner Werbach recalled the Romans saying that lead was okay and a farmer telling their workers DDT was harmless. In response to Commissioner Werbach's question about how does this reconcile with the concept of the precautionary principle, the answer was made that it absolutely reconciled and that as the precautionary principle states you have to make decisions on what to do be based on the best available evidence and the availability of alternatives. The number one fact was noted that we have to disinfect in the distribution system, because otherwise, you get cholera, typhoid, and number two there is very strong evidence that chlorine causes disinfection byproducts, which lead to cancer therefore we have an alternative, the alternative is chloramine. It was noted that at this point staff cannot make decisions today on the absence of evidence and based on what is known, chloramine is the right thing. It was noted again that regarding individual health concerns, staff supports any needed additional studies, and should further study show there was a public health issue, action would be taken. The basic point was made that based upon the known physiology and about how chloramine behaves in the environment and how it's dealt with physiologically, there did not seem to be a plausible reason to support preemptive action.
President Sklar asked if there had been any attempt by any member of Commission or by the General Manager to influence the scientific and engineering conclusions in the staff's report and was informed the results reported been completely independent. President Sklar thanked the presenters and the General Manager, finding this presentation to be one of the most intellectually complete presented to the Commission on such a difficult topic.