Kittery Water District Superintendent Michael Rogers speaks before the Town Council Monday about the district's plan to add chloramines as a disinfectant to the water. Credit: Hadley Barndollar | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — In a presentation that drew a full house Monday, Kittery Water District Superintendent Michael Rogers said a quarter of a million people from York to Portland currently use chloramines, the very disinfectant warranting concern from Kittery and Eliot residents after an announcement of its upcoming implementation in drinking water.

Because of water user worries, Rogers announced at the Town Council meeting that the Water District will delay its implementation of chloramines from the initially announced date of April 1, to June 1.

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A question and answer session has been scheduled for May 21 at the Kittery Community Center, where water users with questions can meet with the Kittery Water District, which services users in both Kittery and Eliot, and is an entirely separate entity from municipal operations.

The Town Council holds no governance over decisions made by the Water District.

Though deemed a safe and effective drinking water disinfectant by the Environmental Protection Agency, and consumed regularly by one in five Americans, chloramines kill household fish and amphibians, impact production processes at bakeries and breweries, can’t be used in kidney dialysis machines, and is said to release lead from old pipes.

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Chloramines can be filtered out through specialized carbon filters.

The change from chlorine to chloramines as a disinfectant, Rogers said, is necessary in order for the Water District to complete its water treatment plant renovation, which will require two periods of shutdown at points this summer and in 2020, warranting purchase of water from the York Water District and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, which both use chloramines.

Water incompatibility is not an option, Rogers said, and would result in poor taste, odors and color issues.

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“I am hopeful that after this presentation, that our customers will have the confidence, that as water professionals, we would never do anything that would adversely affect the health of our customers,” Rogers said, adding they’ve already adjusted pH and phosphate levels to properly protect against pipe corrosion.

Rogers said arrangements to implement chloramines began three years in advance, and the Water District’s intentions of doing so were published in its 2016 and 2017 annual reports, despite resident qualms that the March public notice was the first it had been publicized.

“Our biggest challenge is that we need to buy water from our neighbors, and that our water is not currently compatible with theirs,” Rogers said, noting the York Water District has used chloramines for 35 years.

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Rogers said homeowners who wish to filter out the chloramines can purchase granular activated carbon filters to install onto faucets. Whole house filters can range from $1,200 to $2,000, he said.

Councilor Jeffrey Thomson asked Rogers if the neighboring districts using chloramines have had any recurring problems over the years, and he answered no.

But Rogers’ confidence did not remedy the concerns of residents, who raised issue with both potential health and environmental impacts. Many asked the Water District to delay the June 1 date even further.

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Resident Julia O’Connell, who has publicly stated that she has respiratory issues, told the council she almost died from exposure to chlorine fumes 12 years ago, and is “very concerned about having chloramines in my water.”

She said the byproducts of chloramines haven’t been well-studied, while simultaneously citing many towns and cities across the United States that have rejected using them.

“I highly encourage us to all try and get the best answers,” O’Connell said.

Resident Jen Thayer said it’s “difficult to find any sort of definitive data out there.”

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“What I did find was it was on the rise, however, many towns are stopping for various reasons,” she said. “From what I was reading, there are other avenues we could pursue.”

Resident Sarah Brown said she’d recently been to Tributary Brewing, where the owners said they had to install a $5,000 specialized filter to make sure the chloramines don’t impact their beer taste.

“As a concerned resident, my first request is that we would consider a bit of a longer delay that really allows us some time to feel comfortable,” she said.

Anne Pease said she was “fearful.”

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“I’m very alarmed,” she said. “I haven’t heard any real news or good information on why we’re doing this other than compatibility. It doesn’t seem like a great reason or a solid reason.”

Laurie Watson, referencing an informal meeting held last week at the KCC between the Water District and its users, said emergency preparedness wasn’t a sufficient reason to switch to chloramines full-time. She wondered if they could be administered for the two times necessary, and then not anymore.

“I’d like to go back to what my daddy always told me,” Watson said. ”‘Don’t borrow problems.’”

Council Chairwoman Judy Spiller said the May 21 meeting date was too late, if the Water District intends to implement the chloramines on June 1. Thomson encouraged residents to direct all concerns to the Water District itself, because the council has no direct involvement in the matter.