Chloramines Controversy Could Cost Millions

By. Neil Williamson, President

water supplyWhat’s the cost of changing a Water Board decision?

How about 25% – 35% increase in your monthly water bill.  How will that impact those on a fixed budget? 

Should economic impacts have equal standing with scientific data in the discussion?

Please let me explain.

Let’s start with a given that everyone wants a sufficient, clean safe, drinking water supply.

To that end, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates requirements for disinfection of drinking water as well as limits on the presence of byproducts.  The EPA first developed these regulations in 1979 and has regularly been updating (and tightening the regulations).  The most recent change in the EPA requirements caused the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to approve the use of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant.  While the RWSA Board has approved the use of chloramines, with no public comment, the implementation of this action has not yet occurred.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been troubled by several individuals who have suggested that our water is just fine as is and we do not have to do anything.  An independent analysis by Hazen Sawyer conducted in July 2011 found:

Sampling sites for the Stage 2 DBP Rule were selected through the Initial Distribution System Evaluation process as required by the DBPR. The Initial Distribution System Evaluation (IDSE) found that compliance with the Stage 2 DBPR would be a challenge without water treatment plant (WTP) modifications to reduce DBP formation.

Beyond the knowing violation of federal law, the EPA also reserves the right to fine violators up to $25,000 per day of violation.

While one may not agree with the specific numbers in the federal requirement, the place to argue this is at the federal rather than local level.  So doing nothing is NOT an option.

Interestingly, neither the EPA nor the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) dictate specifically how a municipal water authority disinfects their water.  They simply provide guidance regarding approved options. 

Prior to selecting chloramines as a solution, the RWSA considered several of the EPA/VDH approved options.  In his March 9th Memo to the RWSA Board Executive Director Tom Frederick laid out the capital facility options as:

  1. Granular activated carbon filtration
  2. Magnetic Ion exchange
  3. Chloramines
  4. Membrane nanofiltration
  5. Ultraviolet light

The least costly (about $5 million dollars capital and $102,000 annual operating) was chloramines.  The next least costly option, granular activated carbon, capital costs are $18.3 million dollars and annual operating cost is $980,000.

Not surprisingly, the RWSA Board of Directors supported the staff recommendation to use chloramines to attain the unfunded federal mandate regarding disinfectant.

It is important to note, many municipal water systems nationwide have been successfully using chloramines as a disinfectant.  In fact,  76% of all Virginians today are drinking water disinfected by chloramines; including drinking water in Fairfax County, Norfolk and Richmond.  In fact, Richmond water works has been using chloramines for over fifty years. 

Our research has resulted in uncovering many heart breaking stories regarding potential chloramine impacted skin rashes and diseases. While we feel for those impacted negatively, we have not seen any  statistical evidence linking increases of such diseases between those communities using chloramines and those not.

If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%.  This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion.

Choices have economic consequences.  

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


5 responses

  1. […] Neil Williamson at the Free Enterprise Forum has a post today about the chloramine decision and not-…. If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%.  This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion. […]

  2. Neil,
    Just to set your info straight, I don’t know where that “76% of Virginians are on chloraminated water” came from. According to the census, VA has ~2.7 million households of which over 1 million are on well water. (~38%). even if EVERY
    municipal water system were on chloramine, it still would not add up
    to 76%. According to the “Water Trends” paper (page 3), ~ 25% of
    Virginians are on chloraminated water. see link below:

    As for the acute health effects of chloramine, there’s no statistical evidence because there have been NO studies assessing the health effects. (how convenient). There are thousands of reports of adverse health effects that need to be thoroughly investigated. To get more infomation on chloramines, please see: and

    1. Neil Williamson | Reply

      6/18/2012 Daily Progress Article “However, many other areas throughout the country use chloramines as a secondary water disinfectant without reports of negative health effects. Seventy-six percent of Virginians use chloraminated water, including the city of Richmond.

      “We actually have been using them for over 50 years,” said Angela Fountain, public information manager for Richmond’s department of public utilities.”

      1. Go move to Richmond, then

  3. chloramine_so_cheap | Reply

    your statement “Choices have economic consequences” is all so true. Choosing chloramine as the cheapest option will ensure that the water customer will have to spend thousands in medical bills, and money to cover the cost of buying bottled water since the tap water will be too toxic to drink. Furthermore, the water customer will bear the cost of replacing ruined plumbing and appliances will shorter lifespans once they go on chloraminated water.
    Like they say, you get what you pay for. Doing the cheap and easy always cost more in the long run.

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