Ruskin wants chloramine studyBy Shaun Bishop
An additive to the Peninsula's tap water has caught the attention of a state assemblyman who is now working to finalize legislation aimed at studying the health effects of the chemical.
Chloramine, a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, has been used in low levels since February 2004 as a disinfectant for the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides water to most of the Peninsula's residents.
But a group calling itself Citizens Concerned About Chloramine says the compound comes with adverse health effects, including rashes and respiratory problems, that have not been adequately studied.
Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, has taken up the issue and has introduced a bill to initiate a study exploring the effect of chloramine on public health.
"It's important to understand, if even a small number of people are adversely affected," Ruskin said. "It's a concern to me that we've never had a comprehensive study of the effects of chloramine."
The language of the bill as it was introduced in late February is identical to one Ruskin floated last year only to have it die in committee. Now, Ruskin's office is talking to scientists and experts about the specifics of what such a study should focus on.
Ruskin plans to amend the bill with those specifics after March 24, once it is past a 30-day waiting period during which no changes can be made.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which operates the Hetch Hetchy system, used chlorine to disinfect its water prior to 2004, but decided to switch to chloramine after the federal Environmental Protection Agency warned that chlorine produces byproducts that are potential carcinogens.
Given those two choices, the commission felt chloramine was a safer alternative, said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the commission. He said officials have heard the concerns from residents about ill health effects, but have followed the advice of public health agencies that insist the chemical is safe.
"All of the scientific evidence that's available, all the studies that have been done ... don't link those effects to chloramine," Winnicker said.
The chloramine citizens group disagrees, claiming at least 400 people from San Francisco to Sunnyvale have been sickened by the chemical. The group's president, Denise Johnson-Kula, said she collapsed in the shower after having trouble breathing shortly after the additive was introduced to the water supply. She also complained of cracked skin and digestive problems.
"It was a nightmare for the people affected," Johnson-Kula said. "It is not safe. We are living proof of that."
The next meeting of the Citizens Concerned About Chloramine is scheduled for March 14 at 7 p.m. at the Heritage Bank of Commerce, 369 South San Antonio Road, Los Altos.
Copyright ©2007 San Mateo Daily News. Published 03/09/2007.