Council Members Question Water Company’s Chemical Change

Marion City HallMarion City Council members are asking officials with Aqua Ohio to appear at a public hearing to answer questions about their plans to start adding a new chemical as part of the procedures they use to disinfect local water supplies. Water company officials say they plan to attend the meeting to answer questions, but stress that the planned process is safe and residents should have no concerns.

Aqua Ohio customers began receiving informational letters last Friday notifying them that the company planned to start using chloramine (a process called chloramination) starting June 1, 2013. Currently the company uses basic chlorine. The chloramine will be created by adding ammonia to the existing chlorine in the water.

A few residents brought the Aqua Ohio letters to the Marion City Council committee meeting Tuesday evening. The issue was discussed during the Finance Committee meeting where chairman Ralph Cumston said he was initially unconcerned about the change when he received his letter. He said that quickly changed after he received calls from concerned residents and started looking into what the change might mean.

Cumston said the information he found while doing research online resulted in more questions than answers. He said he found concerns about possible damage to plumbing, that the chloramine cannot be easily filtered, and that it may be harmful for some residents.

“You can’t believe everything on the internet,” admitted Cumston, but said that pretty much every source he found had bad things to say about chloramine. He asserted that even the EPA, while saying the process was allowed, had warnings about its use.

Because of the concerns surrounding the change, Cumston called for a public hearing to be held during the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2013. He said Aqua Ohio officials would be invited to answer questions from Council and residents. He said officials from Marion Public Health should appear as well.

“You know, water should be safe,” said Cumston. “It raises a lot of questions.”

Ralph Hill, a Marion resident, told committee members that while Aqua Ohio says they are allowed to use the chloramines, they are not allowed to add lead, zinc, and other materials to the water supply. He alleged that the chemical leaches lead and other materials from home plumbing, thereby adding disallowed materials into the water.

Marion resident Terry Cline said the City of Marion should send the company a letter admonishing them on not having the courtesy of informing the public months in advance. He said they should have educated the community so they could either be scared more or scared less.

“It’s really outrageous that a company wants to put something in our water without talking with us,” said Cline.

Cumston said he was willing to ask the water company to delay implementation of the change which is scheduled to start June 1, 2013. A couple residents said Council should go a step further and get a court injunction to stop the switch.

“There are enough questions here that it requires serious public debate,” said Cumston, who encouraged people to do their own research and arm themselves with knowledge.

Aqua Ohio Says Process is Safe

When reached for comment on Wednesday, Aqua Ohio officials said that the process of chloramination is safe, has been used for decades, and the vast majority of residents will have no idea that a change has been made. They explained the change only affects “two small groups;” dialysis patients and people with fish tanks. With that in mind, officials said they have provided extra information targeted at those groups to make them aware of the change.

Aqua Ohio said that before using chloraminated water for kidney dialysis or in fish tanks or ponds, the water should be tested with a chlorine residual test kit capable of measuring “total” chlorine. They warned that a test kit or instrument designed to measure “free” chlorine will not accurately register levels of chloramines.

Officials stated they are not aware of any studies that show any health concerns with other populations. They said it has not been shown to adversely affect children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems as was alleged during the City Council meeting.

Tom Schwing, Aqua’s Safety and Compliance Officer, said he has a long background in water chemistry. He said one reason for the concerns expressed during Tuesday’s council meeting may be that people are finding issues that occur when water companies use chloramination as the primary disinfectant, something Aqua Ohio is not planning to do.

Schwing said that chlorine will continue to be used as the primary disinfectant. Once that process is complete, a “small amount” of ammonia will be added to form the chloramines. That secondary disinfectant will allow the water safety to remain stable as it travels to residents’ homes. When you use chloramine as a secondary disinfectant, you don’t use as much, said Schwing.

While chlorine breaks down fairly quickly, and thereby stops protecting the water, chloramines do not and allow the water to remain stable and continuing to fight bacteria as it travels to people’s homes.

Because of the low amount of chloramines being created, Aqua officials said they are not any more concerned about increase degradation of water lines and plumbing than they are currently. Schwing said the company already actively monitors for lead and other materials, but does not anticipate an increase in those levels from the addition of chloramines.

Officials said that no one owns more pipes in Marion than they do and no one is more concerned about degrading lines.

Dispelling one rumor, Schwing said because the creation of chloramines is a secondary step, it will actually cost the company more, not save them money as has been alleged. He said the reason the company is making the change is to keep up with ever increasing EPA standards. He stated that chloramination is the most cost effective and beneficial process available.

Jeff LaRue, spokesperson for Aqua Ohio, said that after reviewing the letter received by residents, he acknowledges that the wording could have been better and may have limited some of the confusion regarding the new process. He said the only notification required by law was to include a sentence on customers’ bills. Even so, LaRue said Aqua wanted to go “above and beyond” by getting more information out to the community.

When asked about the short time between the letters and the change, LaRue said they discussed the timing at length. In the end, they decided that sending the notifications a week or two before the change would give dialysis patients and fish hobbyists enough time to prepare. He said there was a fear that if they gave more notice people would procrastinate on preparing and then forget about the change.

“The vast majority of people are never going to notice the change,” stressed LaRue.

For more information regarding the changeover to chloramines, residents are encouraged to contact Aqua customer service at 877-987-2782.

You can also learn more about the process at the EPA. Click here to view a fact sheet. To view even more information about various disinfectants, click here.

About Sean DeWitt

Sean DeWitt is an owner of Neighborhood Image and Marion Online. Sean is a board member of Boys & Girls Club of Marion County and involved with various other non-profits including Downtown Marion, EnVISIONing Marion County, and more.