Activist Erin Brockovich Attacks North Texas Water District Over Chlorine Maintenance

Erin Brockovich, the crusading environmental activist who inspired an Oscar-winning performance from Julia Roberts with her work to ensure water safety in California in the 1990s, is taking on the water coming out of faucets in Plano and several other North Texas cities. It might not be safe to drink, Brockovich says, because of a chlorine cleaning method used by the North Texas Municipal Water District.

Officials with the water district, to which the city of Plano is referring questions, say the 28-day chlorine maintenance — during which ammonia, one of the three cleaning agents typically used in district water, is left out — is routine. Chlorine levels aren't increased, Mike Rickman, deputy director of operations and maintenance for the water district said late Thursday, but the chlorine odor and taste in water produced by the system is more noticeable because of the lack of ammonia.

"This is a safe and scientifically proven method to ensure that treated water remains safe as it moves throughout the distribution system," Rickman said.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Brockovich told her more than 750,000 followers that using chlorine alone to clean tap water — when both chlorine and ammonia are used, they form chloramine — is anything but a normal procedure.

"Let me be perfectly clear," Brockovich said. "If a community water system is forced to conduct a chlorine burn because they are experiencing nitrification, it is because they have failed. ... It is a remedial action to correct a serious problem they themselves have created because the [sic] are cheating on the regulations."

According to Brockovich, the maintenance the district's system is undergoing is proof that's its regular procedures, when it uses chloramine and ozone to clean its water, are unsafe.

"So ... the ammonia (which is nitrogen) is pumped into your drinking water ... it is not "Safe"... it is a weaker disinfectant ... which allows (actually feeds) bacteria and biofilms in the pipes, plumbing systems and appliances," Brockovich wrote. "This biofilm exhausts the chlorine freeing up the ammonia (nitrification) which is like candy to bacteria and your system begins to fail. After this failure... the free chlorine burnout becomes necessary. Again... it is not "Safe" it is toxic and dangerous. Just where do you think the broken down biofilm ends up? Yuck!"

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have deemed it safe to treat water with chloramine  Replacing it with simple chlorine temporarily to remove biofilms is a "routine operational measure," the TCEQ said in a statement Thursday.

In addition to Plano, water from the North Texas Municipal Water District flows to residents of Collin, Dallas, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hopkins, Hunt, Kaufman, Rains and Rockwall counties.

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