News Feature | August 12, 2016

EPA Considering Change In Chloramine Rules

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The U.S. EPA is considering a change in its chloramine regulations amid intense debate in some cities over the safety of this common water-treatment chemical.

“An agency spokeswoman said the EPA plans to publish a decision by year-end on whether it will revise the rules,” The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The use of chloramines in water treatment is a point of contention in some cities.

“The disinfectant, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, has been widely adopted by water utilities in recent years after the federal government tightened regulations on some hazardous byproducts that result from using chlorine alone,” the report said.

“Residents in Stockton, CA, and Tulsa, OK, have opposed the use of chloramine, partly because they say it causes rashes and respiratory problems in sensitive individuals,” the report continued.

Some researchers argue that disinfectant byproducts increase under chloramine treatment, according to the report.

“Based on data from 11 cities, a 240-page study published in April by the Water Research Foundation, a Denver nonprofit that gets funding from the utility industry, concluded that utilities looking to reduce levels of such disinfection byproducts should avoid chloramine, among other options,” the report said.

Many utility professionals support the use of chloramines. Bob Stevenson, general manager of the Hannibal Board of Public Works, is among them.

“In our view, chloramines are like a miracle cure,” he said, per the report. “They got us out of a tough problem pretty cheap.”

Hannibal, MO, is holding a referendum on the use of chloramines so voters can decide whether the city will use the chemical. The city decided this month to put the decision up for a vote, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post.

Chloramine proponents say the method is cheap and effective for wiping out disinfectant byproducts. The use of this chemical is on the rise in the U.S.

“Chloramines have been used by water utilities since the 1930s.  More than one in five Americans uses drinking water treated with chloramines,” according to the EPA.

Chloramine use “skyrocketed after the federal Environmental Protection Agency placed stricter limits in 1998 and 2006 on 11 disinfection byproducts. Most, such as chloroform, are created when chlorine interacts with naturally occurring organic material in rivers and other water sources, and some are considered probable human carcinogens,” the Journal reported.

Erin Brockovich, the environmental advocate, is among the high-profile critics of chloramine use by utilities.

“The fact of the matter is chloramines are a terrible mistake. While utility companies often use chloramines as a matter of convenience, there are far safer alternatives. As a world-leading nation, we have to stop cutting corners where our health and safety are at stake,” she wrote in an essay.

To read more about chloramine use visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Disinfection Solutions Center.