CDC Experts to Hear Concerns About Chloramine

For Immediate Release: September 25, 2007
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802- 863-7281

BURLINGTON – At the invitation of the Vermont Department of Health, drinking water and public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) will be in the state on Sept. 26-28 to listen to Vermonters' concerns about chloramine.

In April 2006, the Champlain Water District switched from chlorine to chloramine for secondary disinfection of drinking water for its 12 municipal systems that serve nearly 68,000 people in Chittenden County. Drinking water drawn from surface water sources such as Lake Champlain must be disinfected to kill bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause serious illness and death.

Also, such systems must maintain a disinfection residual throughout their distribution systems.

“CDC is here to gather information from many different perspectives, which may help further our understanding of the use of chloramine as a secondary disinfectant,” said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. “The CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency have been invited by the state Health Department to listen to concerns about chloramine. We hope that CDC will gather information here in Vermont that may possibly help provide us and other communities nationwide with future guidance.”

Chloramine has been used as a secondary disinfectant since the 1930s in the U.S. and its use is closely regulated by the EPA and the State of Vermont. A 1998 EPA survey estimated that – at that time - more than 68 million people were using public water systems treated with chloramine.

Since the Champlain Water District began using chloramine, the Health Department has heard health complaints from approximately 50 of the 68,000 Champlain Water District customers who believe that their concerns are related to the chemical in their water.

On Wednesday, the Health Department will host the CDC team in a series of meetings with state health and environmental officials, lawmakers and concerned citizens.

CDC experts will also visit people in their homes and conduct telephone interviews with people who have expressed personal health concerns.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that public water systems that use surface water use a disinfectant such as chlorine at specified levels for primary disinfection at the water treatment facility. Secondary disinfection is also required to treat any type of contamination that could occur after the water leaves the treatment plant. Systems used as a secondary disinfectant include chlorine and chloramine.

Chloramine remains effective in the water system over longer distances for a longer period of time and forms lower levels of regulated disinfection byproducts than chlorine. The Champlain Water District received a permit from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Water Supply Division before changing from chlorine to chloramine for secondary disinfection. In September 2004, a public bond vote was held, approving the change from chlorine to chloramine. The change passed with 81.6% of the votes.

Since the change, and as a response to concerns from the public, the Vermont Department of Health reviewed the history, science and health risks associated with the use of chloramine. Available research at this time supports the EPA conclusion in its 1994 review, Drinking Water Criteria Document for Chloramine: “In humans, health effects do not appear to be associated with levels of residual chloramines typically found in drinking water.”

However, data gaps about the health effects of all water disinfectants remain.

Health Department officials began meeting with representatives of the group People Concerned About Chloramines (PCAC) and the Champlain Water District in the summer of 2006 to better understand concerns and provided testimony to the Vermont Legislature. In addition, Health Department medical and toxicological experts have spoken personally with many people who have called with health concerns, and continue to review all available scientific articles and studies.

The Health Department continues to review whether or not the disinfectants are possibly contributing to health concerns expressed by some Vermonters despite the long history of their use, apparent safety, and lack of documented health issues among the many thousands of Champlain Water District customers.

In April 2007, the Health Department surveyed 172 health care providers in Chittenden County to try to find out if there was a hidden prevalence of health concerns related to the water that were being reported to physicians. Those surveyed included family practice and primary care physicians, pediatricians, pulmonologists, dermatologists, allergists and naturopaths. Of the 81 surveys returned, two health care providers reported having a patient whose underlying disease was exacerbated by the water, 11 providers reported they were not sure if patient complaints were related to the water, 59 providers reported the water did not cause patient complaints, 9 surveys were returned to sender, and 92 surveys were not returned.

The Health Department continues to encourage the public to avoid self-diagnosis and to contact their health care provider and share their concerns.

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