CDC officials hear complaints about chloramine

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(Host) Federal investigators got an earful of complaints today about chloramine, a chemical that’s used to disinfect water in Chittenden County.

Officials from the Centers for Disease control heard that the chemical has caused skin irritation and other problems. The officials also plan to visit residents in their homes and may help the state design a study to look at the health impacts of chloramine.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The meeting at the state Health Department began with person after person reciting a range of symptoms they blame on the water. Linda Elkins clutched several bags of pills she says she now takes to deal with her health issues.

(Elkins) I was stuffed up real bad. I’d take a shower. Then I’d take a shower, then I’d cough, then I’d sneeze.

(Dillon) The Colchester resident said the problems began more than a year ago. That was after the Champlain Water District added the chloramine disinfectant to a public water system that serves 68-thousand people.

Elaine Greenfield of South Burlington says she experienced similar health issues.

(Greenfield) In the summer of 2006, I experienced itchy skin, irritated cells of my back. Rashes. I had allergic symptoms, itchy, watery eyes. Extreme fatigue..

(Dillon) Greenfield is a professional musician and teacher. She installed a carbon-based water filtration system. She says her problems cleared up immediately.

(Greenfield) It was like a miracle. I just felt my old energy return. And I felt like I was myself.

(Dillon) The federal officials listened impassively and asked few questions during the testimony. Later this week, the team will visit people in their homes and try to find out if there’s a common cause of the problems.

Leslie Hausman is with the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

(Hausman) We want to learn what’s going on. That’s why we’re here. We were invited by the Health Department to learn what’s going on, to listen to everybody.

(Dillon) The state Health Department reached out to the CDC and the U-S Environmental Protection Agency to help investigate the issue.

Dr. Donald Swartz is the department’s medical director. He says he doesn’t question people’s symptoms. But he says isolating the cause is difficult.

(Swartz) The symptoms that are being described aren’t that unusual in areas like Burlington, where there is no chloramine. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t sensitive to something in the water. That doesn’t mean they’re not sensitive to chloramine. It just means that it’s very difficult to say that they are. And to prove that. Then the problem is what do we d?. Because chloramine is very valuable to keep the water clean.

(Dillon) Swartz hopes that the CDC can help design a scientifically based study to look at the health impacts of chloramine.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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