How best to purify municipal drinking water is becoming a hotly debated topic in many Vermont cities and towns.
Rutland residents will likely weigh in at the polls in November, deciding between adding chloramine to their water or building a more costly filtration system.
Evan Pilachowski is Rutland’s commissioner of public works. He says for the past several years, Rutland has been dancing in and out of compliance when it comes to meeting federal water quality standards. At issue, he says are what are known as disinfectant byproducts.
"In any water source you have naturally occurring organic matter," he said.
Some of that organic matter dissolves and stays in the water even after it’s filtered. Pilachowski says when the city adds chlorine, those organics can form undesirable byproducts.
And one of the most common groups of those chemicals is the haleocitic acids and that’s the one we have problems with," he said.
Because, according to the EPA and others, they’re linked with an increase risk of cancer.
New EPA regulations concerning byproduct levels in drinking water will go into effect next year, so cities are scrambling to comply.
Pilachowski says after considering many options, city water officials believe adding chloramine is the best, most cost effective way for Rutland to meet EPA standards.
But the chemical is controversial and there have been reports that it causes skin and respiratory irritation among some people.
Rutland resident Traci Pena says adding another chemical to the city’s water is a bad idea.
"I am a breast cancer survivor," she said. "So this is very personal to me. We already have haleocitic acids, which are a known carcinogen in the water. So I already, whenever I get a drink or soak in the bathtub, I stress about and have to think about that already."
But advocates for chloramine say the chemical has been used effectively to disinfect water for nearly 100 years and more than one in five Americans use drinking water treated with it.
"This isn’t as if it’s a technology that’s just come out of an inventor’s labratory and has never been used anywhere where we don’t have decades of experience with large numbers of people using applying chloramines," he said.
David Sedlak is a water quality engineer and professor at the University of California Berkeley. A resident of Oakland, he also drinks water purified with chloramine.
"I think that a resident of a city that applies chloramines can feel confident that they will not suffer any ill health effects if the chloramines are applied in the ways that are prescribed by the EPA," Sedlak said.
Rutland Mayor Chris Louras says it’s right that local residents should weigh in on the issue. And he says both a carbon filtration system and adding chloramine would bring the city’s drinking water up to federal code.
But he says if residents choose the $5.5 million dollar filtration system over the less costly chloramine method, he worries that other important infrastructure improvements might have to be put on hold.