The North Texas Municipal Water District has added new measures to provide more transparency after last year’s complaints over the taste and smell of the water during its annual disinfecting practice.
The water provider for 80 North Texas communities will conduct its annual chlorine maintenance from March 4 to April 1. Among its customers are the cities of Frisco, Plano, McKinney and Richardson.
The district began conducting monthly tests in December to measure disinfectant byproducts in the water. This is an increase from the quarterly byproduct measurements that state regulators require the district to do.
The district has also put together an informational page on its website about the chlorine maintenance period.
“We really want to be responsive and provide information when people have questions,” said Galen Roberts, the district’s water quality expert.
The group Safer Water North Texas formed during last year’s maintenance period and raised concerns about the district’s disinfecting process. The group’s attorney Chris Nidel said he is pleased to see the district is testing more frequently but hopes it will test multiple times during the chlorine maintenance.
“We want them to test during the period of the highest levels of disinfection byproducts,” Nidel said. “Testing once a month may meet that requirement, but it also may not, depending on when they choose to test.”
For instance, Nidel said he would want to see the byproduct measurements for each month rather than an average from all 12 months. Even better, he said, he would want to see multiple samples taken during chlorine maintenance to see what the levels are at various times and locations.
The NTMWD uses two types of disinfectants: ozone and chloramine, which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. Ozone, along with disinfecting water, helps prevent a musty taste in the water, water district spokeswoman Janet Rummel said. Chloramine is the disinfectant used as water is distributed from the district to the communities it serves, water system manager Zeke Campbell said.
During the one-month maintenance period, the water district removes ammonia from the process and uses only chlorine. This preventive measure stops bacterial growth in pipes. According to the water district, the chlorine without the ammonia may cause the water to taste or smell more acrid.
“Chlorination has been an effective treatment practice for well over 100 years,” Campbell said. “History has shown that that practice has, especially in developing countries, gotten rid of things like typhoid fever, cholera, things of that nature.”
Many residents raised questions and concerns during last year’s maintenance period after environmental activist Erin Brockovich criticized the district’s use of chorine and chloramine.
Her initial Facebook post questioning the process not only sparked the creation of Safer Water North Texas but also prompted numerous water district presentations at city council meetings and a special visit from Brockovich to Frisco. Some residents claimed the tap water caused adverse health effects, such as skin rashes.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality received nearly 300 complaints around the time of last year’s chlorine maintenance period. A TCEQ report dated May 18 concluded that the drinking water was likely not the cause for skin rashes and other health problems.
To help educate residents, the water district has also posted videos of interviews with a toxicologist on its website. Dr. Scott Phillips, a medical toxicologist and associate professor at the University of Colorado, said in one video that the chlorine levels in drinking water will not cause skin rashes.
“As we said last year, if you have concerns, see your doctor; ask your doctor if there could be something there,” Rummel said. “At the concentrations of chlorine that are in the water, it would not be expected to cause those adverse health effects.”
Nidel said multiple scientific studies do point to adverse health effects as a result of chlorine and would like to see those studies objectively reviewed by the district.
Cities within the water district’s system conduct their own water quality tests throughout the year. During the chlorine maintenance period, some cities are conducting extra tests.
Frisco, for instance, will test the water six times before, during and after the maintenance period, according to the city. The tests, which will total $15,000, measure disinfectant byproducts in the water.
Other cities, such as Richardson, do not plan to conduct additional tests. The city of Richardson conducts more than 100 water quality tests per month, according to the city.
The city of McKinney also does not plan to conduct additional testing, but the city typically increases fire hydrant flushing during chlorine maintenance, according to a statement from the city.