Use of ammonia in Hannibal drinking water will cease

Melinda Brown reads through a five page explanation Tuesday explaining the three propositions on the ballot provided by Hannibal's city clerk. Curry voted at the Admiral Coontz Community Center in the fourth ward in Hannibal. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 4, 2017 10:35 pm Updated: Apr. 5, 2017 8:25 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 to require the city to stop using ammonia as a disinfectant in the city's drinking water, 1,259 to 894.

"I've been confident since day one that Hannibal would support this," said Kellie Cookson, founder and treasurer of Hannibal to Oppose Chloramines. "Who wouldn't want clean water for generations to come? I want to thank those who supported us, the H2O team, and our friends in California, Bob (Bowcock) and Erin (Brockovich). We couldn't have done this without them all."

When ammonia mixes with chlorine, which is used to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, it creates chloramine, a secondary disinfectant in the water treatment process.

A petition by the groups H2O and Hannibal and Ralls County Citizens for Safe Water was submitted to Hannibal City Council in July 2016 to remove ammonia from the city's water. They and other residents believe chloramines can cause and/or aggravate health problems. The petition attracted enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot for public vote.

The Hannibal Board of Public Works is currently in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency in regard to disinfection by-product levels.

The proposition's passage means the ammonia must be shut off within 90 days. At that point, Hannibal likely will no longer be in compliance with EPA standards.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources said consequences of not being in compliance were unclear.

The city of Hannibal commissioned a study, performed by Jacobs Engineering, on the cost and feasibility of implementing granulated activated carbon into the city's drinking water as opposed to using the current treatment process of chloramines. Those findings were presented at a public forum March 22.

If the city decides to use granulated activated carbon as the new filtration method, Jacobs Engineering recommended that the city construct second-stage granulated activated carbon filters. Construction of those filters would not be completed until January 2021.

The discussion regarding the use of ammonia in Hannibal's water attracted national attention.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich visited Hannibal on March 20 to meet with residents and advocate her support of Proposition 1. She was accompanied by water treatment engineer Bob Bowcock, who has visited Hannibal several times since 2015 to speak on the chemical's potential effects on customers' health and the alternative of using granulated activated carbon to filter water.

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