Chloramine fears still bubblingBy Justin Nyberg
Imagine being afraid of water. The same water in your coffee. The water in your soup. The water in your shower, dishwasher and sink.
For some county residents, this is not some fleeting hydrophobia. This is life.
For David Heran, 50, of San Bruno, it means venting the bathroom so he won't inhale the shower vapor. When Denise Johnson-Kula showers, the 45-year-old Menlo Park resident says she gets asthma so bad it nearly suffocates her. In Foster City, Claudette Main, 58, only drinks distilled water.
"I survived cancer 10 years ago, but my water may kill me," she said.
On Tuesday, those residents and others like them lobbied the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to support a resolution asking the state's association of county health officers to take a long, hard look at the potential health effects of chloramine. The new chemical disinfectant used in water lines has been accused of causing everything from skin rashes to cancer.
"You need to take a stand on this and take it out of the water, for the good of the people," said Millbrae resident Michelle Perrazzo.
But whether their concerns are valid -- or whether they are all wet -- is up to science to decide.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which replaced chlorine with chloramine as the Peninsula's disinfectant in February, has said there is no evidence the chemical is dangerous in the low doses coming out of the taps.
Water systems throughout the Bay Area and the country have been adopting chloramine as their primary disinfectant for the past two decades with few reported problems.
But change is scary. Especially when the pipes begin corroding.
In Washington, D.C., the switch to chloramine in 2000 was associated with a spike in lead levels in the water as old pipes began leaching the toxic chemical.
One study, in the October 2004 Journal of the American Waterworks Association, concluded that chloramine was responsible for the lead seepage. Other studies have suggested it may have been other factors, such as a change in the pH balance of the water or the absence of chlorine.
Tests conducted in hundreds of Peninsula homes over the summer found no evidence of a spike in lead levels here, where lead pipes are scarce. Still, residents have reported skin rashes and other problems not associated with lead exposure, symptoms they blame on chloramine.
The non-binding resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors asks the California Conference of Local Health Officers for a formal opinion on the matter. The conference has slated the issue for study at its late-January meeting.
Get the lead out
- Flush your pipes before drinking.
- Drink water that is cold at the tap.
- Eliminate lead pipes, brass fittings and soldering used prior to the 1980s.
- Call your city water department or district or the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program for a list of laboratories certified for lead testing at (510) 540-2800.
- For more information on lead in drinking water, call the Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking water hotline at (800) 426-4791 or the National Lead Information Center at (800) 532-3688.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
Copyright ©2004 Peninsula Examiner. Published 12/08/2004.