Following growing concerns over the repercussions from the recent addition of chloramines to disinfect Hannibal water, the Hannibal Board of Public Works general manager said the BPW will “dust off” engineering reports from three years ago and reevaluate the chloramination of the local water system.

Following growing concerns over the repercussions from the recent addition of chloramines to disinfect Hannibal water, the Hannibal Board of Public Works general manager said the BPW will “dust off” engineering reports from three years ago and reevaluate the chloramination of the local water system.

But Bob Stevenson said changes, if any, would take years to implement.

So, for now and the foreseeable future, the BPW will continue to use chloramines as one disinfectant it uses, despite the push for more immediate changes by concerned citizens.

The issue took a more prominent place locally this week as a water quality expert outlined possible negative consequences of chloramination during a public meeting Monday, Oct. 12.

Robert Bowcock — an engineer who has worked with noted environmentalist Erin Brockovich for years — said Hannibal residents could face health issues and property damage as a result of the chloramination of Hannibal water.

The BPW began adding chloramines on Sept. 28 as a way to relieve the ongoing violations of more stringent regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on disinfection byproducts (DBP). The addition of chloramines have passed muster with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). But the BPW could see daily fines retroactive to Oct. 1 if it can’t adhere to the new DBP guidelines.

MoDNR’s approval didn’t stop the group of citizens concerned about future generations from conducting research on chloramine use and seeking out Bowcock’s opinion.

Bowcock’s presentation “gave people a lot to think about,” according to Crystal Stephens, a co-organizer of the event.

“It should make the BPW stand up and take notice,” she continued. “We were just shocked at some of the things he said.”

While Bowcock has years of experience with water quality issues, Stevenson suggested he is using Hannibal as a pawn to advance an anti-EPA, anti-MoDNR agenda.

“His fight is not with us,” he said, “but is with the EPA on a national level.”

Bowcock contended that chloramine use could cause immediate medical conditions, such as upper respiratory issues, and long-term use could cause chronic conditions. He emphasized that not everyone could see adverse effects.

“But someone in this room will know someone who will be affected,” he said.

He also discussed property damage caused by the chloramination of water. He described a “scaling” effect in pipes caused by chloramines, trapping bacteria that would eat away at rubber fittings and other plumbing implements. With a largely aging water system and older homes, properties in Hannibal could be particularly susceptible, he said. Bowcock said there is not one published test on the safety of chloramine. Calling chloramine use “safe” is an inappropriate blanket term, he contended, as the chemical make up of water systems differs from place to place.

On the flip side, Stevenson said the varied chemical composition of water regionally doesn’t necessarily translate into widespread problems.

“The fact of the matter is many people around the country are using this stuff (chloramines) successfully,” Stevenson said.

He called Bowcock’s examples of both immediate and chronic health consequences as “throwing bombs.”

“He was there to scare people,” he continued, saying that two weeks into chloramine use, “we’re not seeing any negative impacts.”

Bowcock said communities have a choice about what goes in their water and that neither the EPA nor MoDNR requires the chloramination of the water. He encouraged more dialogue with the BPW.

Stephens agreed.

“I don’t think the residents should have to go to such extremes to be heard,” Stephens said, referring to seeking out a water quality expert.”

Bowcock discussed alternative methods to disinfecting water. Stevenson said the BPW will take a closer look at those. One involves activated carbon, which originally had cost estimates much higher than chloramination.

Bowcock said it isn’t more expensive.

“We don’t know if that’s the case, but we’re going to check it,” Stevenson said.

Three-year-old engineering studies commissioned by BPW will be re-examined, Stevenson said.

While cost, safety and feasibility will all be factors in any potential change, it’s time that could create the biggest obstacle. The trouble with decisions regarding chloramination — or any other water-industry regulations and changes — is the pace, according to Bowcock.

For the EPA to make changes in regards to chloramine use could take several decades, he said. Several of the co-organizers of the event said they had concerns for their children and grandchildren.

“It shouldn’t take a new baby today to graduate from college to see change,” Bowcock said.

Stephens hopes for a quicker course of action.

“We don’t want to get to the point where the damage is already done,” she said. “Right now, we’re going to encourage people call city council and call the BPW and definitely call MoDNR and try to get this [the removal of chloramines] expedited.”

But by Stevenson’s estimation, a change will not happen in the near future. He says months of examination and further tests will be needed.

“Someday we may be able to modify our existing treatment plan,” he said. “But for now, we’ll keep feeding it (chloramines) and we’ll watch it like a hawk.”

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .