TULSA - One year ago the Tulsa City Water Department started adding chloramine to the city's water supply.
It was a controversial decision.
The opposition to using chloramine centers around health concerns.
Leslie Stenquist says she suffers from chloramine sensitivity.
"I honestly thought I was going to die because I, my throat had constricted to the point I couldn't even make a sound, my sinuses had shut up."
Stenquist says her symptoms started about a month after Tulsa began adding chloramine to the water at city treatment plants.
She says her rashes and breathing problems sent her to the ER or urgent care four times before she and her husband suspected chloramine as the cause. She believes she has a sensitivity or allergy to it but she can't know for sure because her allergist told her, "There is no medical test for chloramine allergy. I cannot give you a diagnosis of a chloramine allergy. But if that's what you think it is, stop drinking it, it couldn't hurt and so I switched immediately."
She only drinks, or cooks, with spring water now.
"And within 48 hours I was off all my meds. All my symptoms went away."
City of Tulsa officials say chloramine is a success at improving the quality of city water and meeting stringent federal guidelines to reduce harmful trihalomethanes, or THMs. Click here (http://1.usa.gov/YJZ7Zl) for information from the EPA about chloramine.
Joan Arthur with the City of Tulsa was the project manager for chloramine conversion.
"It's been very effective for the City of Tulsa in reducing concentrations of trihalomethanes which are potential carcinogens in our drinking water to much, much, lower levels than we had prior to making the conversion," said Arthur.
In fact, Arthur says, at half the EPA allowable levels. In addition to testing for THMs the city tests for another issue chloramine opponents say is a big problem; corroding pipes allowing lead and copper to leach into the water.
Arthur says there are no increased levels of lead or copper in Tulsa's water compared to before chloramine use. She says records show the Tulsa's Customer Care Center has had about 125 calls related to chloramine in the last year.
The center takes about 8,000 calls each month.
"We have asked customers that if they think they have a health related issue to also contact the Health Department so they can investigate those concerns," said Arthur.
So we checked with the Tulsa County Health Department.
"The health department has not had any complaints from the consumers regarding water issues whether it be respiratory or rash or irritation," said Elizabeth Nutt.
Jeanine Kinney, co-founder of Tulsans Against Chloramine (http://bit.ly/11DcwJM), says her group has heard from hundreds of symptom sufferers with issues like Stenquist describes; rashes, trouble breathing or digestive problems.
Kinney says they're all resolved when tap water is replaced with spring water.
"I think the standard needs to be to use the best and never compromise our citizens health or our homes or our environment."
Kinney says there have simply not been enough definitive testing into the effects of chloramines on human health. Though chloramine is know to be deadly to aquatic life.
"Get the chloramine out of our water so I can go back to living a normal life," said Stenquist.
She says she does use city water to shower but has to take very short, lukewarm, showers or her symptoms start to come back.
While chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, has been in Tulsa's water for a year Arthur says it's been used for 90 years as a disinfectant in public drinking water across the U.S.
"About a third of the population drinks water that's been treated with chloramines."
She adds that while there are a limited number of epidemiological studies related to chloramine both the EPA and ODEQ consider chloramine a safe alternative when used at concentrations below the maximum residual disinfectant level (MRDL) of 4 mg/l.
Other communities in Northeast Oklahoma using chloramine include Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Bartlesville, Jenks, Owasso, Bixby, Glenpool and Catoosa. Click here (http://bit.ly/189trGT) to see a sampling of other cities in the US using chloramine.
Kinney says many states and communities have rejected the use of chloramine including. She provided this partial list of cities/states that have abandoned or limited the use of chloramine:
- Seminole County FL investigated and rejected chloramine.
- Tennessee discourages its use but does not forbid it-reason being they recognize the potential problems.
- Ohio requires that the water company prove that they CANNOT meet EPA regulations without chloramine.
- Leesburg, VA considered and rejected chloramine.
- Poughkeepsie, NY tried chloramine but reverted back after uncontrolled lead and corrosion problems.
- West View, PA tried chloramines, but had lead issues and now uses it only 3 months of year.
- West Columbia, S.C. reverted back to chlorine in 2007.
- Charlottesville-Albemarle, VA considered and rejected chloramine.
- Scottsdale & Gelndale, AZ did not entertain the option of chloramine and went with GAC (Granular Activated Carbon)
Kinney said she would like to see Tulsa follow suit.
"I think that together if we work together in a collaborative way we can move away from chloramine."
She says rather than chloramine a system called Granular Activated Carbon, GAC, is a better, safer, alternative. Arthur says GAC is used in Tulsa Treatment Plants, already, but GAC is not currently sufficient to get those dangerous THMs out of the water.
Though she says research into that option continues with the University of Arkansas and others to identify the organic compounds specific to our source water that form the THMs in Tulsa's system and to evaluate additional types of GAC for removal efficiency.
The University of Arkansas study will investigate granular activated carbon for removal of the natural organic matter which forms disinfection byproducts, specifically THMs.
Kinney says city and water officials have all been open to meetings and input from her group and she plans to keep working to get chloramine out of Tulsa's water. If chloramine is a concern to you be aware switching to just any bottled water won't do.
Many companies use municipal water, do some filtering and add certain minerals, then bottle and sell it so it could still contain chloramine. Natural spring water does not come from a treated, municipal, water source.
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