PLANO, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A former Environmental Protection Agency official says the state and county health departments should investigate reports of skin rashes and other medical complaints involving chlorine in the tap water.
“I would say the state health department, county health departments should get together and start identifying people that have this,” said Dr. Richard Bull, a former Director of the EPA’s Toxicology & Microbiology Division.
Bull’s division at the EPA focused on disinfectant byproducts produced from chlorine used to disinfect drinking water.
He says a study should determine how widespread the rashes really are.
Bull made his remarks after taking part in a panel discussion by experts assembled by the North Texas Municipal Water District Thursday.
The district invited the panel to meet with concerned residents, media and environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who in a series of Facebook posts, criticized how the district treats its water.
Brockovich was a no-show at the meeting, but members of the group who helped organize her visit to North Texas, Safer Water North Texas were there.
Jamie Stephens of Frisco told the water district that she’s lived in Frisco for the past ten years, but only noticed a strong odor of chlorine this year. “It does feel different this year.”
Stephens told district leaders about the medical conditions some residents developed after noticing a strong chlorine smell in the tap water last month. “It’s literally blisters, skin rashes, I mean, this is the number one complaint of our group.”
The complaints surfaced as the water district conducted its annual 30 day maintenance program when it uses only chlorine to disinfect the water to prevent bacteria instead of a mixture of chlorine and ammonia called chloramines.
Stephens agreed with Dr. Bull’s call for a study. “I think all agencies should get involved to try to figure out what’s going on.”
While Brockovich didn’t attend the meeting, her water quality expert, Robert Bowcock did.
Bowcock said he doesn’t think the district’s water is safe. “No, I don’t think it’s safe.”
He told the district leaders they need to use less chlorine in the system after a recent test in Plano showed at five of 12 locations, there was a higher level of THM’s or trihalomethanes, one type of disinfectant byproduct in the water than the federal limit of 80 parts per billion.
THM’s are a potential carcinogen if there’s prolonged exposure to them.
The water district and the city of Plano have said if one test exceeds the limit, it won’t pose a problem.
That’s because the government says the yearly average of THM’s can’t exceed the limit.
Bowcock said, “It’s way too much chlorine. They exceed the maximum contaminant level and then average it away.”
He acknowledged how the government measures the limit. “They allow it, but they don’t suggest it.”
Mike Rickman, a Deputy Director at the water district said, “I totally disagree with him (Bowcock). The water is safe to drink.”
He insists the water meets all federal and state standards, and says the district closely studies and reviews the amount of chlorine it uses in its system. “There are disinfection levels required by the regulatory agencies that we have to maintain, and we’re within those regulatory ranges.”
Rickman said that the water district will install a $60-million biological filtration system in 2020.
He says it will help the agency reduce the amount of chlorine in its system.
Another member of the panel assembled by the water district, Dr. Frank Blaha, P.E., Regional Liason of the Water Research Foundation backed up Rickman’s assessment of the district. “I would say this water looks to be safe.”
He says there are always areas for improvement in water treatment.
The Executive Director of the water district, Tom Kula, assured the public his agency is committed to making improvements. “We truly do care. We live here, we drink the same water, we’re confident in the quality of the water.”