Grand Isle Debates Adding Chloramine To Its Water System

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Cities and towns across Vermont are debating how to best treat their water systems to meet new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

In one community this week the debate is whether to add chloramine to the water system or use carbon filtration.

Earlier this year, the board that manages this island community’s water supply decided to use chloramine as a secondary disinfectant to meet standards set by the EPA.

But during a public hearing this week at the state fish hatchery in town, several residents voiced their concerns about chloramine and many asked that the chemical compound not be added to their local drinking water system.

Water systems in Vermont are treated in two stages, using chlorine. But chlorine creates disinfectant byproducts that are a known health hazard and the EPA wants water systems to use a secondary treatment that reduces those byproducts. Chloramine is one option.

Water system engineer Allen Huizenga consults for Grand Isle. He says that chloramination would reduce disinfectant byproducts in Grand Isle’s water system by about 59 percent.

"That was a significant reduction and it was felt that that was the best option from a performance standpoint," Huizenga said.

Engineering a chloramine system would cost $200,000 and engineers said it wouldn’t affect water bills in town.

A granular activated carbon system, GAC, is another option. Huizenga says GAC is significantly more effective, but also much more expensive. The additional filters and a new building to house them would cost $900,000.

But activists at the Grand Isle meeting argued the cost is worth it. They presented anecdotal evidence from the Champlain Water District in Chittenden County that chloramine byproducts have their own health risks, including skin, respiratory and digestive problems. And they said cash-strapped water districts may be moving too fast to find solutions to meeting the EPA’s requirements.

"There’s always been alternatives," said Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator from Los Angeles who was invited by activists to speak at the Grand Isle meeting. Bowcock studied the town’s water system.

"This system is right on the borderline, so just a few house-keeping items might be sufficient to help them come into compliance," Bowcock said.

After hearing public concerns, town officials in Grand Isle are reconsidering whether chloramination is the best approach to use in the town’s water system.

Grand Isle and 15 other water districts in Vermont will have to comply with the EPA’s regulations by October, 2013.

The issues discussed in Grand Isle were also brought up at a hearing in Rutland Thursday night. In June, a committee there proposed using chloramine to comply with EPA requirements. But Rutland’s City Council has voted down that proposal until it can do more research.

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