Chloramine and confirmation bias

The evironmental reporter’s well-balanced story about chloramine in Stockton’s water supply gave the issue the airing it deserved. My own feeling is switching from chlorine was a step away from cancer-causing water. To the extent concerns remain about chloramine, they are just that — concerns as yet unverified by scientific research.  

A skeptic disagrees here.

So, what to do? The above-linked article recommends whole-house filtration. Unless you are made lof money, that seems excessive. As does retooling the Delta Water Supply Project at great cost, possibly without cause.

That would sastisfy Menlo Park resident Denise Johnson-Kula, who formed an anti-chloramine group.

Reports the story, “Johnson-Kula suddenly began suffering from “life-threatening” asthmatic attacks every time she showered, and her skin burned “like somebody had poured gasoline on it and set it on fire,” she said last week.

‘”I almost died in the shower,” she said’

Her interpretation is that chloramine is toxic. But an equally valid interpretation of her rare reaction is that she has a special sensitivity not shared by others. When serving millions of people, rare reactions become probable.

“Johnson-Kula argues that if experts haven’t found evidence of health impacts associated with chloramine, it’s because they haven’t studied the matter closely enough,” the story says.

That could be true; equally possible is that no reasearch will satisfy some people until it agrees with their conclusions. Among these are people with a virtually ideological distrust of municipal water that cannot be allayed. They pay user fees for city water and pay again for bottled water.

I’m not dismissing the concern. But the best data right now is saying choloramine is safe. If new studies say otherwise, we will change our mind.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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