Erin Brockovich shares opinions on chloramines at town hall meeting

At a time when the drought is causing problems across the state, water is going to be a hot topic. But Stockton is facing another water-related problem that doesn’t involve rain measurements. Two years ago, the City of Stockton agreed on a switch to disinfect water from the Delta with chloramine instead of chlorine. Making the switch during the driest periods of the drought would have caused potential environmental problems and health risks, so Stockton officials waited until Jan. 13 to start distributing chloramine treated water. The events prior to this faced criticism from Stocktonians and environmental activists at the town hall meeting at Delta College this past Monday.

The switch was proposed to fix a recurring problem with Stockton’s water. In two of the last three years, the city has surpassed federal standards for amounts of carcinogenic byproducts that are produced when chlorine reacts with organic materials in water. Chloramine is less likely to create these byproducts, hence the switch.

Chloramine is a chemical substance of ammonia and chlorine. The use of the chemical isn’t a government experiment as chloramine has been in use since the late 1920s. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s page on the chemical, it is a safe alternative to chlorine and poses no health risks in levels used with disinfecting drinking water. In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 68 million Americans were drinking water disinfected by chloramine.

The backlash by citizens was brought on by anecdotal accounts from other cities and communities that stated water disinfected with chloramine had caused multiple health issues. Reports varied from breathing problems and internal issues to skin rashes.

Counter arguments include that chloramines can cause lead and copper pipes to corrode, a problem that could result in lead poisoning when consuming water. However, CBS 13 Sacramento reported that plumbing can be fixed so that pipes are not susceptible to corrosion. Chemistry teacher Bill Lorentz said that although lead in water is a problem, “water filters in sinks and refrigerators are able to pull out these trace amounts of lead.” Residents can ask for chloramine-resistant pipes in order to resolve this issue. As well, the city’s water managers would do regular testing to prevent dangerous amounts of lead to enter drinking water.

Opposition also increased when activist Erin Brockovich entered the arena. Brockovich commented on Mayor Anthony Silva’s Facebook post about the news, stating that city officials are “lazy and cheap” and are taking the easy way out by switching to chloramines. At the town hall meeting, her and Bob Bowcock gave presentation on the dangers of using chloramines. In their presentations, the two referred to a study done by Kaiser that showed evidence that chloramine disinfected water can cause a high percentage of miscarriages with women in their first trimester. Both Brockovich and Bowcock advised citizens to demand a change to using carbon filtration instead.

Stockton residents were also given a chance to ask questions to the panel at the meeting. One resident, who was a youth representative for Stockton at the Paris conference, wondered if chloramines was included in the conversation with the Delta tunnels. Another was a dialysis patient who worried if the new water would affect her treatment, but she was assured that dialysis centers filter out chloramines as a default.

Alex Breitler, the environment reporter for the Stockton Record, has written a string of stories on the events leading up to a town hall meeting. Breitler been reporting on chloramine related news. “Chloramine is generally safe,” the reporter said. “It’s up to water managers to closely monitor the water.” He explains how governments that switch to chloramines are given guidelines they must follow to ensure the water is safe. Research that shows the dangers of chloramine use high concentrations of the chemical, higher than levels used to disinfect water. “The status quo called for a solution and that’s what the city is doing.”