County insists on chloramine answersBy Michelle Durand
Chloramine, the controversial water additive, may be safe for general consumption but county supervisors unanimously called yesterday for a scientific stamp of approval.
The board agreed to support the San Francisco Department of Public Health's request for a formal position on the additive by the California Conference of Local Health Officers. The vote came only after a litany of possible side effects were rattled off by water users: severe asthma, rashes, lesions, passing out, skin burns.
"I survived cancer 10 years ago but my water may kill me," said Claudette Maine, an ovarian cancer survivor with a compromised immune system.
Fremont resident Wynn Greich, who works in Millbrae, brought jars and bottles of nails soaked in water to show how chloramine eats at metal.
"When aluminum corrodes it leeches into the brain and gives you Alzheimer's," she said, adding that most people cook with aluminum pots.
The speakers were so demonstrative that Mark Church, president of the Board of Supervisors, reminded them the county is not the agency which put chloramine in the drinking water.
Chloramine is the combination of chlorine and ammonia and is used as a disinfectant in the public water supply. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission -- which oversees the Hetch Hetchy water system along the Peninsula -- switched from chlorine to chloramine Feb. 1 to comply with stricter environmental standards. Chlorine kills germs but isn't considered as effective or long-lasting as chloramine. Opponents, though, have publicly questioned if the change left the system of 2.4 million customers more at risk for health problems.
"The long-term effects of chloramine have not been studied," said David Heran of San Bruno.
Heran blames the additive for aggravating his asthma and said his doctors had "zero knowledge" of what chloramine does to humans.
Speaker after speaker detailed similar problems. They told the board how, within days of the switch, they experienced unexplained skin problems and shortness of breath. One man said he coughed so much a stranger told him to stop smoking.
Studies have proven that chloramine can harm kidney dialysis patients, fish in aquariums and businesses or industries that use treated water. Since the switch, many Peninsula cities held public meetings to answer questions and give residents a forum to raise concerns. However, at least one speaker yesterday said the demand for answers now may be too little too late.
"This is like trying to shut the barn door after the cows already got out," said Redwood City resident Nancy Gilbertson.
Gilbertson said the SFPUC should have done double-blind studies on chloramine long before adding it to the drinking supply. Worries after the fact don't help those already affected by the additive, she said.
"It's commendable to research and document it but it's like calling 411 when we should call 911 because it's an urgent crisis," she said.
Copyright ©2004 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 12/08/2004.