The North Texas Municipal Water District insists its water is safe. So do several of the cities it services. But a growing number of customers are saying they are not so sure now.
Emily Franklin is one of those customers. Her family has lived in Anna for almost four years, and she said their water was fine in the beginning.
“Initially we had no problems with our water, in fact, I actually liked it,” she said Friday. “The past two years have been very different though. Our water has smelled and tasted more and more of chlorine.”
“I haven’t been able to take even a quick shower without coming out smelling as though I’d been in a swimming pool.”
More troubling, however, was what she believes the water is doing to her four small boys, ages 5, 4, 2, and four months.
“My children have chronic rashes and bouts of eczema, even though we have changed our diet completely in the last year to eliminate all sensitivities,” she said. “I have even called our city out to check our chlorine levels in the months past when our water began to smell like pure bleach.”
Franklin said the city assured her the chlorine levels were within permissible limits — but she does not believe the water is safe.
“A year ago I could do nothing to keep my hair from having the texture of straw — no matter how much I babied it, and even after cutting 12 inches off — until we added a chlorine filter to our shower head,” she said.
“The humongous red flag for me came, however, two months ago when we received results on blood work for our two oldest boys,” Franklin said. “Among other results, I saw that there are dangerous levels of toxins — specifically MTBE — in their little bodies.”
“This has been causing me no small amount of anxiety as they cannot detoxify at a normal rate due to genetic mutations our whole family has.”
Franklin said that the family can’t currently afford a whole-home water filtration system. “So we must just try to live with this unlivable water,” she said.
Franklin’s family isn’t the only one we encountered with dermatological symptoms they attribute to the water. In an online panel interview Friday, CandysDirt.com had dozens of families tell us about everything from odd rashes to hair loss they say often were alleviated after stopping their use of NTMD water topically.
“We moved to Melissa in 2014. Shortly after I started experiencing very itchy skin all over — to the point of having to buy special body washes to try to calm my skin,” said Ryan Sikorski. “I was also itching so bad I was bleeding from scratching. Never had this problem at all in my life before then. My hair also really went downhill – super super super dry no matter what I did.”
“We all also tend to get random rashes from time to time. I’ve long suspected it was the water but felt like the city just dismissed my concerns.”
“I’ve never had issues with my hair until I moved to Anna,” said Christina MacMeeken. “My hair falls out in clumps, and the water has to be ice cold for me to drink it because it tastes so awful.”
“The steam from a hot shower shouldn’t burn your eyes,” insisted Nikki Rivera.
The NTMD has 13 member cities — Frisco, Forney, Allen, Farmersville, Garland, Mesquite, McKinney, Plano, Princeton, Richardson, Rockwall, Royce City, and Wylie. It also has 34 customer cities, including Prosper, Fairview, Sunnyvale, Terrell, Melissa, Crandall, Kaufman and more.
The quality of the district’s water came to wider attention after environmental activist Erin Brockovich posted about it on her Facebook page.
Her first post was March 13, where she accused the city of Plano and the NTMD of cutting corners on proper water treatment.
“North Texas Municipal Water District is cutting corners on quality and rather then provide responsible answers to their consumers is hiding behind misrepresented TCEQ regulations,” she wrote. “ Let me be perfectly clear… 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 not a ‘maintenance procedure’ permitted by TCEQ… it is a remedial action to correct a serious problem they themselves have created because they are cheating on the regulations.”
The district, however, says that the current smell is due to a “temporary 30-day proactive system maintenance process” that will end on March 26. The city of Plano also sought to reassure citizens in similar fashion, as did the city of Richardson.
“During this period, residents may experience a stronger smell of chlorine, however NTMWD has not increased the amount of chlorine in the water,” the district said in a press release dated March 15. “The only change during this temporary maintenance period has been the discontinuation of ammonia while maintaining all other treatment processes. The odor will be more noticeable due to the lack of ammonia.”
“The most commonly used disinfectants for water treatment are chlorine, chloramine (chlorine and ammonia) and ozone,” the release continued. “NTMWD, like many water providers, uses all three. Ozone is the most powerful disinfection process and chlorine is used to ensure the water remains safe as it moves through the pipes throughout the regional and local systems.”
“Water quality and safety is a top priority, and we work closely with officials in Member and Customer Cities, federal and state agencies to fulfill our mission,” said Mike Rickman, Deputy Director of Operations and Maintenance at NTMWD. “This is a safe and scientifically proven method to ensure that treated water remains safe as it moves throughout the distribution system.”
But Brockovich maintains that the NTMWD has shortchanged their customers, calling their attempts to placate the public “laughable.”
“Quite frankly, their ‘press release’ doesn’t say much,” she wrote in response. “Meeting the extremely limited Safe Drinking Water Act regulations is laughable.”
Some are questioning the use of chloramine, despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency say that in safe levels, monochloramine is safe and actually a better water disinfectant than chlorine. However, some organizations say that while monochloramine may be safe, the byproducts it creates as it does its job may introduce carcinogens into drinking water.
“The three species of chloramine constantly and rapidly shift from one form to another. The species that predominates is dependent on pH, temperature, turbulence, and the chlorine to ammonia ratio,” the group Citizens Concerned About Chloramine claims on their website. “Even time plays a factor because after a day or so, with no changes in conditions, monochloramine in a water system will slowly degrade to form dichloramine and some trichloramine.”
The latter chloramines are commonly recognized with that tell-tale “swimming pool” odor.
Friday, in an interview on local NBC affiliate NBC-5, another scientist well-versed in water treatment agreed with Brockovich’s assessment, saying that these big chlorine hits (such as the one the NTMWD is conducting) don’t kill all bacteria, leaving too many byproducts from disinfection behind. These byproducts result in skin irritations and even stomach issues.
“What we believe is going on there is that these municipal water suppliers are hitting their water with a lot of chlorine, which is one way to kill bacteria,” Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand, with the University of Texas-Arlington’s Collaborative Laboratory of Environmental Analysis and Remediation, told NBC. “The reason this hasn’t been a bigger issue or that there hasn’t been more news coverage of this is that under the current water standards, either by the state of Texas or the federal standards, you’re only required to test for a certain number of bacteria.”
But for now, the panel we talked to isn’t taking any chances, saying they’re drinking bottled water and are investing in filtering shower heads for the time being.
“I wish that our district would spend money on creating real solutions for clean water, not just masking the problem, putting a band-aid on it, to make levels acceptable for a short period of time with measures that are apparently advised against by TCEQ,” Franklin said, adding that she worries about people who may not know that their current ailments might be caused by their water.
“I don’t know what happens to people who can’t afford to better their water supply personally — if filtration systems will even help that much in instances like that — if our local or state or national government won’t step in and realize there’s a crisis here,” she said. “I mean, this really does affect not just us, but generations after when you start thinking about the DNA damage this can be causing.”
“And you can drink all the bottled water you’re able, but your skin is still your largest organ, so what do you do about things like hand washing, bathing?”
Franklin said that she and other families she’s spoken to in the past few months are thankful that attention is finally being brought to the matter.
“There are a handful of people in Anna who tried to get the media’s attention last year and CBS did a brief segment on our water, but basically the city said it was a non-issue and that was that,” she said. “People are still dealing with dermatological issues and saying their hair falls out, and my water smells like a bottle of Clorox, but they say it’s OK, so it must be OK.”
“Unfortunately without a power hitter like her, I don’t know that it ever would have garnered any attention.”