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Chloramine Facts Versus Fiction

With a 90-year track record as a safe, effective disinfectant, chloramine is widely used by municipally run and privately owned water systems across the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, misinformation on the Internet and from other sources has created unnecessary confusion. Below are responses to commonly asked questions to present the facts about chloramine.

Why is Pennsylvania American Water changing the disinfection process for its West Shore water system?

To comply with new, more stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, Pennsylvania American Water needs to transition the water disinfection process from free chlorine to chloramine. We are making this change to reduce the levels of disinfection byproducts that EPA has found to have known health risks. These byproducts are potentially harmful contaminants that form when disinfectants react with naturally occurring organic materials -- decomposing plant material -- in untreated source water.

Compared to chlorine, chloramine produces substantially lower concentrations of the disinfection byproducts that the EPA has found to have known health risks. The new federal regulations take effect in 2012, and we are taking a proactive approach to ensure that our water meets all public health standards.

When is the transition going to take place?

Pennsylvania American Water will implement chloramination starting the week of July 12, 2010, at its two water treatment plants that serve more than 36,000 customers in Camp Hill, East Pennsboro, Enola, Fairview, Hampden, Lemoyne, Lower Allen, Newberry, New Cumberland, New Kingstown, Shiremanstown, Silver Springs, Upper Allen, Wormleysburg. All customers will receive written notification in the mail at least three months prior to the switch.

Have Pennsylvania American Water’s plans been thoroughly reviewed to ensure the public’s health is protected?

Yes. Our West Shore water system’s transition to chloramine has undergone years of review through all environmental and regulatory channels. The company secured the necessary permits from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2006, and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved a settlement on Pennsylvania American Water’s plans in June 2009. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court have consistently ruled in the company’s favor on every legal challenge.

Is there anything customers need to do to prepare for the transition?

No. Most West Shore customers will not notice any changes to the water, except you might notice that the taste and odor of chlorine is reduced. However, if you prefer, customers can visit the National Sanitation Foundation’s website for information about in-home filters that remove chloramine and chlorine from tap water. Please note that two groups of customers need to take special precautions: kidney dialysis patients and fish owners. For more information, visit Precautions for Dialysis Patients and Fish Owners.

What is Pennsylvania American Water doing to prepare the system?

Prior to the transition, our crews will flush the entire network of 600 miles of pipe serving West Shore customers. Flushing is not uncommon – the company regularly flushes its distribution system to enhance water quality and service reliability, while enabling crews to monitor and maintain fire hydrants. Flushing is expected to begin in March 2010, weather permitting. To flush the system and minimize inconvenience to customers, crews will work primarily at night over the course of three to four months. Flushing involves systematically opening hydrants and allowing water to flow freely, so we plan to start next spring and avoid the cold winter months. Pennsylvania American Water will notify customers before flushing takes place in your community.

Does chloramine increase the chance of lead poisoning due to leaching from household plumbing?

No. Proper corrosion control is always the key to reducing the risk of lead leaching, and Pennsylvania American Water has extensive experience in this field. In fact, when the Washington D.C. water system had issues with lead and a lack of proper corrosion control with chlorine – before it made the transition to chloramine, the EPA called our parent company, American Water, to help resolve the issue. Our environmental experts assisted Washington D.C. officials in developing the solution – a phosphate-based corrosion inhibitor. Pennsylvania American Water’s West Shore treatment plants have used a zinc and phosphate-based inhibitor since 1992, so no new additives are necessary for the transition. Therefore, chloramine will not create lead-related issues on the West Shore.

With wastewater treatment operators facing strict Chesapeake Bay targets, will chloramination require Pennsylvania American Water to introduce new chemicals or higher levels of corrosion inhibitors, thereby increasing wastewater treatment costs to comply with the pending Bay regulations?

As stated above, no new additives or additional inhibitors are necessary for the transition. Since 1992, Pennsylvania American Water’s facilities have used zinc orthophosphate as a corrosion inhibitor on the West Shore to meet federal lead and copper standards. Although phosphorus, which is contained in the inhibitor, is one of the targets in the Chesapeake Bay strategy, wastewater treatment plants are able to remove phosphorus either chemically or biologically. Pennsylvania American Water will not be changing, increasing or introducing new inhibitors with the transition to chloramine, which is a mixture of chlorine and trace amounts of ammonia. Furthermore, the zinc residual that we apply for the distribution (pipeline) system will remain extremely low (0.21 milligrams/liter). Therefore, the use of chloramine will have no measurable impact on wastewater treatment.

Is Pennsylvania American Water owned by a German company, and shouldn’t we be concerned if Germany has banned the use of chloramine?

Pennsylvania American Water is not owned by a German company. Our parent company, American Water, was previously owned by German firm RWE, which acquired American Water in 2003 and announced its intention to fully divest of the company in 2005. RWE started divesting its ownership in April 2008 with an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. As of November 2009, RWE sold all of its remaining American Water common stock and no longer has any representation on American Water's Board of Directors.

Although Germany stopped using chloramine years ago, the fact is that Germany and many European countries also banned chlorine for disinfection. What’s more, Germany does not require any continuing disinfection in its distribution system, unlike in the United States where a disinfectant residual must be maintained in the water main as an added layer of protection for consumers. So don’t be misled by Germany’s prohibition of chloramine since it imposes a similar ban on chlorine – not to mention the lack of any disinfection between German treatment plants and their customers’ homes.

Did Pennsylvania American Water consider any other methods for disinfecting water before choosing chloramination?

The company’s water quality, environmental and engineering experts evaluated a number of options and eventually selected chloramination because of its extensive history as a safe, effective disinfectant. During this review, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) analyzed our plans and granted permits in 2006 to use chloramine for the West Shore water system.

Some people have suggested that alternative processes, such as ultraviolet (UV) light, should be used to comply with the new EPA regulations. However, the UV technology is effective only within the treatment plant and does not maintain the required disinfection in the distribution system. As a result, chlorine would have to be added as the water leaves the plant, thereby failing to address health concerns associated with the disinfection byproducts.

When a main break occurs with chloraminated water, what is the likelihood of a significant fish kill?

Both chlorine and chloramine are toxic to fish. Therefore, regardless of whether water is treated with chlorine or chloramine, water companies must react quickly when main breaks occur and employ best management practices to minimize the environmental impact on streams and rivers. In fact, Pennsylvania American Water’s West Shore system has not experienced a fish kill in more than 20 years.

Why doesn’t Pennsylvania American Water delay chloramination until further research is performed?

Our environmental experts closely monitor all water quality research, as does the rest of the water industry. No broad-based or nationwide research has found chloramination to be unsafe. Although one study raised questions about unregulated disinfection byproducts from chloramine, this research was based solely on one facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the specific water source for that location. In Corpus Christi, the source water comes from an area that was a brackish (salty) seabed. This untreated source water has different characteristics than the West Shore’s sources of supply. The fact is that every water source – and the quality of the source water – is different, which is why disinfectants, treatment processes and byproduct issues must be addressed differently at every plant.

Pennsylvania American Water supports ongoing research. Based on current research, the EPA, DEP, Pennsylvania Department of Health and other credible health institutions continue to recognize chloramine as a safe, effective disinfectant. If the EPA decides to conduct further studies, it is unknown how long such research would take, and what, if any, changes EPA would make. In the meantime, new federal regulations take effect in 2012 to address known health risks, and we believe in taking a prudent, proactive approach to ensure that your water meets all public health standards.

Should I be concerned about washing open wounds with chloraminated water?

No. Water disinfected with chloramine is no different than using chlorinated water to cleanse a wound. Virtually no water comes into direct contact with the bloodstream, so there is no harm.

Will chloramine adversely affect my swimming pool?

You should continue to treat your pool according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Test kits available at your local pool supply store can be used to measure the disinfectant concentration in the pool water. Contact your local pool supply store for additional details.

When it comes to gardening, will chloraminated water harm ornamental plants, vegetables, trees or shrubs?

No. The low levels of disinfectant in the water should not have any effect on plant life. The bacteria that contribute to plant growth live within the soil and are generally protected from chloramine concentrations by the soil layer. Soil will reduce or remove the disinfectant, thereby reducing its levels in the water that reach the plants.

If you have a question that is not listed here, please send it to us via the Got Questions? mailbox, or call our customer service center at 1-800-565-7292.

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