White Rock’s plan to add chloramine to its water supply starting next month poses no health concerns to residents, according to Mayor Wayne Baldwin.
The decision to disinfect the water supply with chloramine – a combination of chlorine and ammonia – was announced Dec. 14 by senior staff, who cited better esthetics due to the high levels of manganese in the water as one of the driving forces behind choosing the method over just chlorine.
Baldwin noted chloramination is a process Epcor had planned to use prior to selling the water utility to the city, as well as one recommended by city consultants and approved by Fraser Health, who, in 2011, mandated the city treat its supply following a boil-water advisory the previous year.
“It’s a valid process for disinfection and maintaining a residual in the water so that we can tell whether or not there’s an infection going on,” Baldwin told Peace Arch News Tuesday. “It’s valid, and it’s not a health concern, otherwise Fraser Health wouldn’t have approved it.”
News of the city’s plans has been poorly received by some residents, who have expressed concerns about health risks associated with chloramine use.
Baldwin said he doesn’t share those concerns, noting many of the negative comments he has seen came from “some of those who are steadfastly opposed to council on just about every issue.”
“We drink the water, too. Our families drink the water, my grandchildren drink the water,” he said. “I would not knowingly poison my grandchildren. So, no, I’m not concerned about it.”
When chloramination begins in White Rock in January, it won’t be the first time residents on the Semiahmoo Peninsula have their water treated with the chemical – in 1988, during a system-wide review of the Greater Vancouver Water District’s treatment strategy, a five-year pilot project took place in neighbouring South Surrey, where the water supply of 70,000 residents was treated with chloramine.
A 1994 report highlighting the findings of the study indicated that chloramine was the preferred disinfection option for the region, citing it as more effective than chlorine at controlling bacteria regrowth, less expensive, better tasting and quicker to implement.
Health officials also favoured chloramine over chlorine, according to the report, which stated that chlorination would form “significantly higher disinfection by-products” – notably trihalomethanes (THMs), which are suspected carcinogens.
Environmental officials cited in the report, however, were opposed to chloramination due to its potential harm on fish-bearing streams.
While both chlorine and chloramine are harmful to fish and other aquatic life, the report notes that chloramines are “more persistent in the environment and do not dissipate as rapidly as chlorine if discharged to streams and lakes.”
Water-main breaks in South Surrey in October 1989 and July 1990 were blamed for killing thousands of juvenile salmon in Fergus Creek during the chloramination-test period, incidents that were cited in the GVWD report as “drawbacks” for chloramination.
In weighing chlorine versus chloramine, the report described the options as “an unusual circumstance where public health and environmental concerns are at odds.”
After an extensive public-consultation process – which saw strong opposition to the use of chloramine – the GVWD decided upon chlorination for the region.
Risks to White Rock’s aquatic life was one concern brought up by Baldwin at the Dec. 14 council meeting, when he questioned staff about mitigation measures that would be in place in the event of a main break or other pipe flushing.
Director of engineering and municipal operations Greg St. Louis said water-utility staff will carry “chemical pucks” that neutralize the chloramine in the event of a water-main break.
Baldwin said this week he was satisfied with that procedure, and noted that tentative plans – as discussed at council – would be for the city to switch back to chlorination once the water’s high levels of manganese have been addressed.
“I think we should be OK,” Baldwin said.
“And I believe the plan is, once we deal with the manganese in the water, then we would revert to just chlorine.”