Water News

Chlorine & Chloramines in our Water

What’s in my tap water?!

By now, a lot of us are aware that Chlorine and Chloramines are the two most used chemicals to treat tap water throughout the United States. Chlorine has been around as a disinfecting agent for a long time. It has been used to disinfect water since the late 1800s - some U.S. States began using Chloramine as early as 1929. Why chlorine? There are trillions of bacteria in water (along with other potential forms of contaminants) and the EPA needed to find a way to treat water so that it’s safe for us to drink. Chlorination (the process of using chlorine to disinfect water) does a very good job of killing off dangerous pathogens by breaking up the molecular bonds of viruses and bacteria. But guess what. There’s not just Chlorine in our water, now there are also Chloramines. Chloramines are more persistent than Chlorine and can only be removed from our drinking water with special filters.
Elitia Barnes writes blogs about clean water and water filtration systems for LifeSource Water Systems. Elitia Barnes

What are Chloramines?

Chloramines are formed when ammonia is mixed in with chlorine.  Chloramines do the same job as Chlorine, but with a couple important differences:

1. Chloramines stay in the water longer as it travels through pipes to consumers, ensuring no new contaminants are picked up by the water on its way to our homes.  

2. Chloramines don’t taste or smell as bad as chlorine and so are less noticeable by consumers.

The use of Chloramines began with an effort to provide longer-lasting disinfectant in drinking water.  Unlike Chlorine, chloramines are more persistent and can last in our water for days.  Since Chloramines reduce the taste and smell of chlorine, it was also intended to help tap water compete with the taste of bottled water.

Many treatment facilities use both Chlorine and Chloramines (remember this really means adding Ammonia to Chlorinated water) - which is why Chloramines are considered a secondary disinfectant. More than 1 in 5 Americans are getting tap water treated with Chloramines. 

What Are the Effects of Chlorine & Chloramines in our Water?

In addition to tasting and smelling bad, many people believe Chlorine and Chloramines aren’t that great for our bodies.  I mean, think about it, Chlorine and Chloramines are dangerous chemicals.  Chlorine is a form of bleach!

Then there are the Disinfection By-Products.  Disinfection By-Products, or DBPs, are organic, inorganic and chemical material that can form during a reaction of a disinfectant with naturally present matter in the water. This is unavoidable.  As water travels from the treatment facility, it comes in contact with city and farm runoff, dirt and even bugs.  WHAT?  Yeah, so basically even though Chlorine and Chloramines are great disinfectants, they can actually create new harmful substances in our water.

The most well-known DBPs are Trihalomethanes (THM): chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform.  (Try saying that three times fast.) They are known carcinogens.  I’m not a doctor, but having known carcinogens in the water I drink every day can’t be good.

All this is to say, while the use of Chlorine and Chloramines as disinfectants is regulated to limit TTHMs (Total Trihalomethanes) to 80 ug/l* (what is considered a safe amount), the fact is that they are chemicals with possible side effects.  

This is one major reason we still need to filter our water!  

Another good reason for filtering the chlorine and chloramines out of our water is that Chloramines are super corrosive to copper pipes and rubber/plastic fittings in fixtures and appliances. (Keep an eye peeled for a future blog with more information on the positive affects a whole house water system has on your actual house.)

                                                            *ug/l is short for microgram per liter.

Reducing My Chlorine Intake

Disinfection By-Products (THMs) from the use of Chlorine and Chloramines is prompting more and more people to filter their water at home.  Filtering not just the water we drink, but also the water we use for bathing, cleaning and cooking.  

Having a whole house water filtration system is the best way to limit your exposure.  We don’t just drink water.  When we shower our skin absorbs the chemicals present in the water.  Those chemicals are also in the shower mist we inhale - if it’s making your skin and hair dry, it’s probably not that great to inhale either. 

Currently, the best known solution to reducing THMs, chlorine and chloramines from our tap water is granular activated carbon. (Double check that’s what your water filter is using!)  Activated carbon acts kind of like a sponge, soaking up chemicals present in the water. 

Remember, the only way to ensure you’re water is chlorine free, is to make sure your filtration system is tested and certified by a NSF/ANSI accredited laboratory.  (Check out our LifeSource blog “What does Tested & Certified Actually Mean when it Comes to Water Systems” for more information on filters).

The Take Away

It seems like Chlorine and Chloramines in our tap water will be around for a while.  So, filter your water at home! Not only the water you drink, but also the water you use for daily life.  Chlorine doesn’t just taste and smell bad, it also affects our skin, hair, laundry and cooking. And while you can’t necessarily taste chloramines, they’re there too.  On top of that, Chlorine and Chloramines bring with them a whole list of possibly dangerous THMs.

If you want to know more facts on THMs, visit the EPA’s page to learn more here: https://safewater.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/sections/203309148-Disinfection-Byproducts

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