Residents are concerned about North Texas water, but is there a real problem?

Clean drinking water is something most of us in the United States take for granted. High-profile cases of contaminated water, such as in Flint, Michigan, are the exception rather than the rule. But when the water that comes out of your faucet smells more like it belongs in a swimming pool, it raises some concerns among the public.

Residents of some North Texas cities are facing just that type of situation right now. The cities of Plano, Frisco, and Richardson are served by the North Texas Municipal Water Supply. Famed activist-turned movie subject Erin Brockovich recently took to her Facebook page to discuss the safety of the water supply. 

Brockovich claims that chloramine is being used to disinfect the water supply, which creates the chlorine smell in the water. However, chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, which is “1,000 times more toxic,” according to Brockovich. 

The North Texas Municipal Water Supply admits to using the chloramine to disinfect the water, but insists that it’s safe. As evidence for their view, they point to the fact that 45 percent of the country’s public water supply is treated with chloramine. The Environmental Protection Agency says that chloramine has been in use by municipal water supplies since the 1930s and that it’s safe as long as it meets regulatory standards. 

The city of Plano got the results of additional tests on their water quality, which were conducted by an independent testing agency. The results showed that disinfection by-products of the city’s water supply were within the accepted standards of water safety, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The use of chlorine is part of a routine 28-day maintenance system, which is called a chlorine burn, designed to disinfect the water supply. Nearly half of the country’s population is served by water supplies which use the same system. The chlorine smell and taste is more prominent because the use of ammonia is stopped during this temporary process. The intent behind the chlorine burn is to prepare the water system from developing a condition called nitrification, an overgrowth of biofilm during the summer months.

Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere told concerned residents that he drinks the same water they do and that the city will fix it if there’s anything wrong. But so far, the city’s stance is that the water supply is safe and meets the same quality standards as other municipal water systems.

However, the group of concerned residents (led by Brockovich) now numbers over 7,000. After about two weeks and despite the city’s reassurances, concern seems to be growing rather than dying down. Many of these residents have attended recent City Council meetings, stating that they have been forced to use bottled water or whole-house purification systems, according to a CBS DFW report. Some residents have even said that the chlorine in the water has caused skin problems including rashes, which appeared after showering. 

Brockovich says that the Plano water system’s method is not a maintenance process, but a “remedial action” taken when a city’s water supply is already suspect. She criticizes the procedure as creating harmful chemical byproducts called trihalomethanes and has raised similar concerns in other cities which use the same processes. 

Brockovich is planning to visit Plano on April 5. By the time Brockovich arrives in town, the chlorine burn will be over. Whether or not residents’ concerns about the safety of the water supply will be quelled by then remains to be seen.

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