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Water treatment options raise eyebrows

Clarke: 'We need to change the way we disinfect our water'

January 23, 2011
SOUTHBRIDGE — Department of Public Works Director Hamer Clarke met with the Board of Health Thursday, Jan. 20, to discuss changes that are going to be made to how the town's water is cleaned.

"We need to change the way that we disinfect our water," said Clarke, who will be stepping down as director at the end of the month. "For as long as we've disinfected in Southbridge, we've used chlorine, which is a type of bleach. There are a couple of problems with it — one, being able to maintain the residual concentration of the chlorine throughout the entire water system. It goes in through a form of gas and it's hard to maintain certain levels of concentration that way. Once you've lost the concentration, you lose the ability to disinfect the water and not have it be able to protect itself from bacteria."

Another problem with chlorine is the way that it can react with organic material that may be found within the distribution system. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been encouraging other ways of disinfecting water, such as chloramines. Benefits Clarke noted were that the longer chloramines stay in the water system, the better it disinfects. It had been the choice of wastewater management facilities up until World War II when the chemical became scarce, as it was used to make explosives. Chlorine was always available, therefore it was more commonly used.

"We realize that we need to educate the public for several reasons," he said. "People have been told not to use tap water to put in their aquariums, as chlorine is toxic to fish. Chloramines are too. Secondly, I can't tell you the physiological reasons, but people undergoing dialysis shouldn't be exposed to the chemical."

Clarke stated that there are plenty of websites out there, both pro and con, that people should look into if they are looking for more information.

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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