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News | Clean water advocates keep up pressure

By Justin Dragos | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted April 12, 2007

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The chloramine debate continues unabated, with both opponents of the water additive, and supporters, clashing in the last few weeks at several public forums.

The first was March 30 before the Health and Welfare Committee of the Vermont State Senate. The second was during Champlain Water District’s annual town meeting on April 3.

Chloramine, a disinfectant added last year to the water served by Champlain Water District (CWD), has been a topic of controversy since its introduction. More than 130 people have come forth since then claiming to have experienced negative side effects from their tap water.

People Concerned about Chloramine (PCAC), which consists of and represents these individuals, have brought their case before the Legislature after nearly a year of dealing with CWD directly. Two days in Montpelier saw statements from both sides, each of which included professional testimony and scientific studies. The CWD continues to assert that chloramine is safe.

Whether there will be any concrete results from the hearing remains to be seen. It was decided that the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) would be responsible for determining how many people are claiming to be experiencing symptoms and summarizing them in order to gauge what further steps to take, if any.

PCAC was asked to give VDH the names of the people wishing to come forth. Two weeks later, at the CWD’s annual meeting, several people complained that VDH has yet to respond to their calls.

Ellen Powell, founder of PCAC, initiated the discussion with a motion for an amendment to CWD’s annual budget. She proposed that a percentage be allocated toward compensating people in the district who are “negatively suffering the effects of chloramines.”

Jim Fay, CWD’s general manager, reasserted the district’s stance that chloramine is safe. Several people in attendance questioned the grounds on which this assertion was made when there have been no scientific studies performed on the dermal and respiratory effects of chloramine in human beings.

The chloramination of CWD’s water, which is deemed advisable by the state health department, was added in response to new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations over the level of allowed disinfectant by-products in the water. Chloramine has been successful in reducing the level of these potentially carcinogenic agents by 44 percent.

To some however, who see alternative ways of meeting these new regulations, the consequences far outweigh the benefits. “What matters today,” Powell said at the CWD meeting, “is that there are people suffering right now.”

She insisted, along with others, that while the long-term debate over the safety of chloramine continued, those who are immediately suffering should be compensated for the cost of alternative sources of water. She requested that the district compensate each affected person $50 per month.

She also proposed that CWD enact an education and outreach plan to deal more effectively with the public’s concerns and to gauge how many people are suffering from symptoms. Fay responded by pointing to the plan put forward at the legislative hearing in which it was established that the VDH would take such measures.

The meeting moderator stated that the amount needed to be specified in terms of the annual budget. After some discussion the motion was refined by a call from a South Burlington resident for 10 percent of CWD’s budget to be allocated toward compensation and further research into chloramine.
The combined amendment was voted down by a 33-18 vote. A compromise of $100 per person was subsequently struck down by a similar portion of voters.

Fay believes the recent events have brought PCAC and CWD closer to working toward a constructive solution.

PCAC members say they will continue to work with and petition the Legislature.