No Covid-19 in water: Chester among 690 Vermont systems ordered to chlorinate water State director says mandate aids vulnerable population

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Under state orders, Chester has begun adding chlorine to its town water supply, something that it had previously only done as a precaution after a water main break or when bacteria is detected during routine weekly testing.

The state mandate, Bryan Redmond, director of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said in an interview on Friday, was issued “out of an abundance of caution to protect those people with weakened immune systems – the aged and vulnerable – and make sure they are not further compromised.”

Besides Chester, the mandate applies to 690 water systems throughout Vermont including Cavendish, which has been chlorinating its water regularly, said Town Manager Brendan McNamara. He added that, “Our levels were already at or above” the state mandate. Weston, Londonderry, Andover, Winhall and Grafton do not have public systems.

State says public tap water is safe, drinkable. Photo by Daria Shevtsova. Cover photo by Pixabay. Both from Pexels.

Redmond emphasized that there is no coronavirus in the drinking water supply, and that a major reason is to protect those with weakened immune systems from possible problems. During the Covid-19 crisis, he added, this provides an additional layer of public health protection. The directive was issued on March 20.

The Telegraph learned of the unannounced chlorine addition from a reader, Susan Bourne, who said she first got a faint whiff of chlorine on Tuesday, April 7. On Wednesday morning, she said,  she could smell it from the tap but it wasn’t as strong as when the Water Department flushed the pipes after the water main break at Chester-Andover Elementary School in 2018.

Responding to a question from The Telegraph during his Friday morning Covid-19 press briefing, neither Gov. Phil Scott nor Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine were aware of the “disinfect order.” Scott said they would check into it and later in the afternoon Redmond spoke with The Telegraph.

“By rule,” Redmond told The Telegraph, “community water systems have to have the capability to disinfect and they were instructed to disinfect … When the state of emergency is over, so is the instruction.”

Bourne expressed surprise at the chlorination. “Usually,” she said the town notifies “the residents. People need to know, especially those with sensitive systems. I’m not drinking the water, I’m boiling it and a neighbor filtered two quarts of water for me.”

Chester Water Superintendent Jeff Holden said on Friday, “A lot of people smell it first thing in the morning because it sits in the pipes overnight and off-gases. If you run your water for a little while, it becomes much less noticeable.” Holden said the town is using the smallest amount of chlorine required to lessen the effect on water users.

McNamara said that Cavendish, which has a complex filtration system, upped the levels a little bit “even before the state mandate.”

If you find the water unpalatable, boiling, filtering or just letting the water sit and off-gas will remove some of the smell and taste. Holden said that the town uses chlorine for disinfection and not chloramine — a combination of chlorine and ammonia — that does not dissipate as readily.

A press release issued early Friday evening by the Agency of Natural Resources, urges residents on a public or community system to continue to drink their tap water. It also stated: “chlorine is added to the water in low doses to kill pathogens that can affect human health.”

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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  1. P Bradley says:

    I am almost 80 yrs old and health wise I am about as compromised as you can be and still be vertical.I have been drinking Chester water for years. The town does an excellent job monitoring our water supply and our water is great. A blanket order affecting all the water systems in Vermont without evidence, is absurd. Show us the factual data, Mr. Redmond. This is an example of our “nanny” government on steroids. Rescind this ill-conceived order immediately, Governor.

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Let’s bust one myth here: Drinking water does not prevent you from getting Covid-19.

    From the Texas Medical Center:

    MYTH: Drinking water every 15 minutes reduces your risk of contracting the virus.

    FACT: Another rumor suggests that drinking water regularly will help flush the virus through the body. Although drinking water can help with dehydration, there’s no evidence of protection against contracting COVID-19.

    “Gargling warm water won’t help either,” warned Luis Ostrosky, M.D., professor of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School and an infectious disease specialist with UT Physicians.

    Still, water is a great idea for staying hydrated and during recovery from any infection, Wootton added.

  3. Barre Pinske says:

    Our water is normally so great to drink it has not been tasting good at all. Is there anything the government can leave alone and not act on out of fear? Water is essential and drinking a lot of it is supposed to help us not get the virus. Now the water tastes like crap. IMO the State of Vt has overacted in many ways that is causing more grief than necessary. The problem is the argument is like someone saying they are responsible for the sun coming up. If the sun comes up they could be right! Under normal conditions we are not on top of each other like folks in NYC and we are taking the same precautions they are. Other than the fresh air the water is one of the best things we have here please get it back to normal ASAP.