Concerned about health effects, Craig residents sour on monochloramine in city’s water
A group of Craig residents isn’t happy about the city’s recent switch to monochloramine as a disinfectant in the city’s drinking water and have begun a campaign on social media in opposition to the chemical’s possible health effects.
The city’s water issues came to light after a 2008 outbreak of salmonella in Alamosa, which led to one death and more than 440 reported illnesses. In response, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment increased disinfectant residuals requirements from “detectable” to a minimum of 0.2 mg/L, said SGM engineer Rick Huggins, who was hired by the city to work on Craig’s water issues.
The city “could not maintain that level at all 10 sites continually monitored throughout the year,” said Mark Sollenberger, city of Craig water/wastewater director.
In 2016, the state gave the city four years — until April 2020 — to comply with the rule to avoid an administrative order and fines as high as $30,000 per day, Sollenberger said.
To fix the city’s water, SGM developed several options and presented them to the city council, which ultimately decided on a cost-effective solution using monochloramine, a longer-lasting chemical, as a secondary disinfectant, along with upgrades to reduce the time water is stored.
The project is expected to cost $5.2 million, requiring the city to increase rates, which it did by a unanimous council vote Dec. 11, to help finance improvements to the water and wastewater treatment systems.
Before the vote, a public hearing was held, and residents expressed their concerns, both about monochloramine and the rate increase.
But Nadja Rider and several other residents said they were unaware of the public hearings and have demanded to know why they weren’t informed of monochloramine’s possible health risks. Rider recently started the Facebook group “Craig CO Water Discussion,” a group she says is “opposed to the use of monochloramines” because they “believe there are better, healthier alternatives.” The group currently has about 130 members.
“We’re here again to object to monochloramine,” Rider said during the Craig City Council’s March 26 meeting. “We believe there are too many health risks.”
The potential for lead leaching and nitrification are two concerns when changes are made to any water system, according to Huggins.
NDMA — a type of nitrosamine — is a carcinogenic chemical and known disinfection by-product of chloramine, which remains when ammonia and nitrogen combine. Nitrosamines are not currently regulated. Regulations are expected in another five to 10 years, when the Environmental Protection Agency reviews rules related to disinfection by-products.
That makes Jan Morely angry.
“Why does Craig have to be the experiment?” she asked council members March 26.
Rider and other residents have also expressed anger at monochloramine’s possible health effects on wildlife in the Yampa River and its effects on immunocompromised elderly adults in local nursing homes. Residents want fresh environmental impact studies and health studies, which they say the city should have done before making the switch to monochloramine.
While the city maintains that all legal notification deadlines and requirements were met and that a testing regimen was enacted for residents in high-risk areas, Huggins acknowledged his own industry’s guidance and best practices weren’t exactly followed when it came to notifying residents of the coming changes to their tap water.
“We probably should have got on that a little earlier, and I’d like to apologize to you,” Huggins said at the March 26 council meeting.
Huggins said city water department staff have several means to control the water quality in various areas of the city and have plans to act if water quality changes.
“If anything were to indicate there is a corrosion issue, we have plans to deal with that,” Huggins said.
About $2.1 million in improvements will be made to the city water treatment plant for storage of ammonia and equipment used to mix it with chlorine for the production of monochloramine.
Monochloramine — a combination of chlorine and ammonia, commonly known as chloramine — has been used as a drinking water disinfectant since 1917. It is found in water used by an estimated 20 percent of Americans, including residents of Grand Junction and Denver, Huggins said.
About $3.1 million will be spent on improvements to the water distribution system to reduce the length of time water is stored in the western zones of the city from the current 20 to 30 days to a more optimal time of seven to 10 days. A monochloramine boosting station will also be installed at the city’s Round Bottom Road storage tank. All city storage tanks will be fitted with mixers to better circulate the stored water. Dump values will be installed to allow water to flow from one zone to the next, Sollenberger said, adding that pressure-reducing valves will also be added so moving water from higher-pressure zones to lower won’t “shock” the system.
The city announced Friday, March 29, it will also be flushing town hydrants through May as “part of the city’s annual water distribution system maintenance and (to) help improve water quality by removing accumulated mineral deposits in the water mains, which helps to increase the chlorine residual within the water distribution system,” according to a city news release.
The city expects SGM’s water infrastructure work to be completed near the end of 2019.
Craig Mayor John Ponikvar also acknowledged the city could have done a better job of notifying residents of the change to their water.
“Maybe we didn’t get the word out good enough,” Ponikvar said during the March 26 meeting.
Councilman Chris Nichols said he and the rest of council worked hard to hire competent experts so council could make the right decision for Craig, but added he would like to provide residents with more health studies on monochloramine.
“I do think it’s important we provide the studies,” Nichols said.
Sasha Nelson contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.