KITTERY, Maine — Following mail from the town’s Water District this week announcing it will begin adding chloramines as a drinking water disinfectant, some concerned residents will meet with the water superintendent on Monday.
The public notice sent to all Water District users this week stated that beginning in April, the town will change to the “preferred disinfectant” chloramines, which are “long lasting and improve aesthetic water quality by minimizing chlorine taste and odor.” Chloramines are effective at reducing the formation of disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.
The change is a result of the Water District’s treatment plant renovation project, which next year will require water compatibility with the York Water District and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, which both use chloramines.
However, concerns have mounted around the public notice’s mention of the change potentially affecting kidney dialysis machines, household fish and amphibians, bakeries and breweries.
Chloramines are toxic to freshwater and saltwater fish, as well as other aquatic organisms, including lobster tanks at grocery stores, restaurants and holding tanks at bait shops. Most lobster and seafood companies in Kittery draw their tank water directly from the ocean.
For brewers, water treated with chloramines for disinfection may react with phenols in malt, which can lend a plastic-like taste to beer. Other sources say yeast and enzymes cannot survive in chloramine-treated water, impacting bakery operations. Chloramines can be removed from water with purifiers, tablets and specialized filtration systems.
But the notice states the Environmental Protection Agency accepts chloramines as a safe and effective drinking water disinfectant for “bathing, drinking, cooking and all uses for potable water everyday.” According to the EPA, more than one in five Americans use drinking water treated with chloramines.
The York and Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells water districts also use chloramines for disinfection, according to the Water District’s notice.
Kittery Water Superintendent Michael Rogers said the transition began with the water treatment plant renovation project, when in 2015, preliminary plans were received by Wright-Pierce engineers to construct a new water treatment plant for $30 million, as the existing one neared the end of its design life.
A decision was made to renovate the facility for $3 million, rather than build a new one, saving ratepayers the expense of bonding $27 million more, Rogers said.
Phase one of the three-year renovation was completed in 2018, with the final phase expected to begin in 2020. This year, the Water District began installing equipment to prepare for using chloramines, Rogers said, because in 2020, the final phase of construction will demand a complete shutdown of the facility, requiring 100 percent purchase of water from neighboring water districts for up to three months.
“Whereas the Kittery Water District uses a free chlorine disinfectant and our neighbors to the north from York to and including Portland all use chloramines as a disinfectant, the two types of water are not chemically compatible,” Rogers said. “If we were to mix the two types of water, there would likely be bad taste, odors and color issues throughout the distribution system.”
Rogers said the Water District is not switching to chloramines “because we want to, even though we are seeing benefits of using it,” but because of the renovation project.
“Even after the project is completed, we are going to remain on chloramines because emergencies can occur at any time, whether it be a mechanical issue at our treatment plant or a break in one of our large distribution mains,” he said. “Having compatible water with our neighbors gives us access to an abundance of water.”
Rogers noted water customers who are on kidney dialysis, and those who own a fish aquarium, will need to take measures to remove the chloramines before using the water. In addition, “operators of breweries and bakeries may need to neutralize the chloramines as it can affect the way that yeast rises,” he said.
“The use of chloramines is not new to the industry, as its been used in the drinking water industry for over 90 years and in some very large cities,” Rogers said. “Most customers will likely not even notice a difference in the water quality after the transition to chloramines.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states studies reported “no observed health effects from drinking water with chloramine levels of less than 50 milligrams per liter in drinking water. A normal level for drinking water disinfection can range from 1 to 4 mg/L.”
Town Manager Kendra Amaral said while the Water District is entirely separate from Kittery municipal operations, the district several months ago requested a list of businesses that could be affected by the change, so they could be properly notified ahead of time.
A group of residents is set to meet with Rogers at 10 a.m. Monday at the Kittery Water District. Water users with questions are asked to call (207) 439-1128.