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Monochloramine meets resistance in Rutland - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Monochloramine meets resistance in Rutland

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

"Skin rashes, gastrointestinal inflammation, digestive issues," listed Annette Smith.

It sounds like symptoms from any number of diseases and disorders, but Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment says that's what can happen to people who consume water treated with the chemical monochloramine.

"It's something that's new and if you don't understand something, it can be a little intimidating," said Evan Pilachowski, the head of Rutland Public Works.

Pilachowski says the city's water treatment isn't meeting EPA standards. Chlorine-- the current disinfectant-- is very reactive and can mix with other substances in the water, creating unwanted byproducts. The city faces federal fines in the fall of 2013 if it doesn't lower the number of byproducts in the water to 60 parts per billion. Right now, it averages somewhere between 60 and 70 parts per billion.

"So basically we have two options-- so it's take out the organics or switch disinfectants," Pilachowski said.

Taking out the organics through a system called Granulated Active Carbon (GAC) Filter would cost the city an estimated $7.5 million to install, plus over $1 million a year to run. Or, the city can put monochloramine into the water, which would cost about $100,000 up front and $15,000 a year to operate.

While Pilachowski would rather the later so rates stay the same, Smith says she fears for their health and their personal medical expenses and cites Champlain Water District-- the only other region in the state using monochloramine-- as an example.

"Since 2006 we've been receiving and reading the reports of hundreds of citizens in the Champlain Water District. We have no question that people are getting sick from the water," Smith said.

But Champlain Water District officials says they have received 105 health complaints for 68,000 customers. Seven were from residents in Colchester and three of them weren't even serviced by the Champlain Water District. Monochloramine is not new-- over 100 million Americans drink and bathe in water with monochloramine every day. It's been in some supplies for almost 100 years, but Pilachowski and Smith agree there are no widely accepted studies to prove or disprove the possible health effects some claim.

"This is a big enough issue that I think it warrants having as much input as possible. Clearly there are a lot of people who feel very passionate about this," Pilachowski said.

Pilachowski has decided not to make the decision on his own and has turned it over to the board of aldermen for a vote Monday night. The board could decide to allow Pilachowski to go ahead with the monochloramine or they could put it up for a ballot vote. But they don't need to make an immediate decision. They have until Sept. 10 to vote on issues to be written onto the November ballot.

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