Water Company Plans to Change Disinfectant Used in Some Systems
11 March 2012
By David Templeton and Don Hopey
Pennsylvania American Water Co. will switch soon from chlorine to
chloramine to disinfect water it sends through its 2,200 miles of
water mains to 215,000 customers in Washington and southern
The company will make the change March 19, prompted by tighter
federal regulations this spring to control carcinogenic
disinfection byproducts including trihelamethane and haloacetic
In addition, chemicals called bromides, which enter local
waterways from power plants, abandoned mines and Marcellus Shale
drilling wastewater discharges -- can react with the disinfectant
chlorine to produce THMs, which have been linked to cancers and
"With the new federal regulations taking effect, we took a
proactive approach to ensure that our water meets all
public-health standards prior to the required monitoring that will
begin for our larger systems in 2012," said Gary Lobaugh,
Pennsylvania American Water's external affairs manager for Western
"Compared to chlorine, chloramine produces substantially lower
concentrations of the disinfection byproducts that the EPA
regulates in drinking water," he said. "Also customers might
notice reduced taste or smell of chlorine in their water."
Pennsylvania American customers in Brownsville, Fayette County,
and in Butler, Clarion, Connellsville, Ellwood City and Uniontown
already use chloramine-treated water.
Disinfecting water with chloramine is not new. It's been used in
the United States for nearly 90 years. One in five Americans
drinks water treated with chloramine, including residents of
Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Indianapolis,
Denver and Miami.
And chloramine use is growing. Of public water systems that use
surface water, one-third use chloramine, and that could rise to
one-half soon. The vast majority of government officials and water
experts are comfortable with its use.
But the changeover has drawn reaction from a seven-state
concerned-citizen network, led by the Chloramine Information
Center in Harrisburg, which says that studies revealing adverse
health and environmental impacts are being overlooked. Other
problems include pipe corrosion caused by chloramine that can
increase lead levels, while the disinfectant causes faster
deterioration of rubber-based washers and fixtures in homes.
The group says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has yet to
regulate chloramine byproducts, including nitrosodimethylanime,
known as NMDA, caused by nitrogen interacting with chloramine and
chlorine. NMDA is toxic in minute concentrations and slow to
biodegrade, making it a public-health concern, according to the
Pure Water Gazette. Other chloramine byproducts, dichloramine and
trichloramine, have produced health effects in animal studies but
toxicity levels have not been set.
News accounts also report fish kills resulting from water-main
breaks that sent chloraminated water into ponds and streams.
"It's not safe, it's not healthy, and it's not necessary," said
Susan Pickford, the Chloramine Information Center executive
director. "We are being sold a bill of goods by the EPA."
Also of concern is that chloramine is a weaker disinfectant than
chlorine, making it less effective in killing E. coli among other
infectious microbes, she said.
But Mr. Lobaugh said solutions exist to neutralize problems that
chloramine can cause in water distribution systems. The EPA and
the state Department of Environmental Protection and state Health
Department, "among other credible health institutions continue to
recognize it as a safe, effective disinfectant."
Pipe corrosion that can release lead and copper can be controlled
through the addition of phosphates, which act as corrosion
inhibitors. Chloramine byproducts are controlled by maintaining a
proper chlorine-to-ammonia ratio and balancing pH to prevent
formation of NMDA and other byproducts.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the levels of
residual chloramines typically found in drinking water "pose no
apparent public health hazard." And the National Association of
Water Companies, Pennsylvania Chapter, says that the taste and
odor of finished water actually will improve.
Chloramine, like chlorine, must be removed from water used in fish
tanks and for dialysis. People with suppressed immunity, including
transplant recipients and HIV/AIDs patients, are advised to
consult their physicians as a precaution.
The EPA says chloraminated water meets drinking-water standards
and is safe for drinking and cooking. Its proposed Stage 1
Disinfectant and Disinfection Byproduct Rule provides a detailed
risk assessment process followed in setting the standard for
"The EPA admits that not as much research has been done on
chloramine, but its limit -- at 4 milligrams per liter for
chlorine and chloramine -- provides a big safety cushion," said
Stanley States, water quality manager with the Pittsburgh Water
and Sewer Authority.
He said both the EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
& Prevention have done health risk assessments for chloramine
and found no health impacts.
"There have been reports of skin, breathing and digestive
problems, but they've looked at that data and said they can't draw
conclusions that they are linked," he said.
Pittsburgh, which has 250,000 water customers and produces 70 to
100 million gallons a day, can't use chloramine because the
Highland Park Reservoir is uncovered and corrosion inhibitors
would cause an algae bloom. Mr. States said the system will meet
stricter standards by spending up to $250,000 each for changes to
three large water tanks, including vents and mixers to dissipate
disinfectant byproducts into the air and out of the water.
Water systems throughout southwestern Pennsylvania long have used
chloramine, including the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland
County, which has used it since the early 1970s. It provides water
to 400,000 people in Westmoreland and portions of Allegheny,
Fayette, Indiana and Armstrong counties, said John Ashton, the
authority's assistant manager.
The EPA says health authorities recognize that some people may
have chemical sensitivities to chloramine, and the authority
received its first complaint last month.
Heidi Redmond, 27, a registered nurse whose family moved last
September from Garrett, Somerset County, to Irwin, developed
burning and itching red rashes in October and she soon linked her
rashes and those that her 9-month-old son, Peyton, developed to
chloramine in the water. In an experiment, she put one arm under
the shower for three minutes. When a rash formed only on that arm,
she concluded that chloramine was the cause. She returns to
Somerset County to shower and refrains from doing laundry or the
"Once I realized it was doing this to my skin, I didn't want
anything to do with the water," Ms. Redmond said. "I have real
concerns about health, and what this will do in the long term."
Mr. Ashton said he's received far more complaints about dry skin,
chlorine odors and taste from customers of the authority's
Ligonier and McKeesport operations that still use chlorine.
The West View Water Authority used chloramine from 1930 through
1980, then returned to chloramine use in 2008, said Joseph Dinkel,
the authority's executive director. But problems arose.
"We curtailed the use of chloramine [in 2009] due to problems in
the older part of the system," he said, explaining that chloramine
was stripping pipe linings and releasing elevated lead levels into
the water. Despite those problems, Mr. Dinkel said he endorses
chloramine use, noting that "it does a fabulous job for the water
industry" in meeting EPA drinking-water standards.
Mr. Ashton also said chloramine causes rubber-based washers and
fixtures in plumbing to deteriorate faster, but improved products
can solve those problems.
"Any change in treatment is taken very seriously, and we closely
examine any possible impacts on our customers," Mr. Lobaugh said,
noting that his company collects dozens of samples each month from
homes throughout its water-distribution system.
Nationwide, chloramine use is growing, especially in larger water
utilities, said Djanette Khiari, manager of the Water Research
Foundation in Denver, where it's been used for more than 80 years.
The key is studying each system to avoid adverse effects.
"I think chloramine is the best option we have right now," she
said. "Monitoring is what we focus on because we have solutions
and know how to control them, but it requires continued monitoring
and management of the system."
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578. Don
Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.