Homeowners in California, Florida, Texas, and Virginia! Read this article to protect your family’s drinking water from unregulated disinfection byproducts produced by your water utilities’ use of chloramine.March 1, 2019
Most people know about chlorine being used to kill germs and microorganisms in their water supply. Many may not be aware that a different disinfectant is being used by many water utilities – chloramine.
The headline above focuses on four states with the most cities that use chloramine. California has 20 cities, Florida has 8 cities, Texas has 10 and Virginia has 6. There were more than 65 metropolitan areas in the United States using chloramine as of 2015.1 There are more now.
According to Mercola, more than one in five Americans are drinking tap water that’s been treated with chloramine.2
What is chloramine?
Monochloramine, the most common form of chloramine used to disinfect drinking water, is made by mixing chlorine with ammonia.
What are primary and secondary disinfectants? Why do we need them to treat our water?
Disinfection reduces or eliminates illnesses acquired through drinking water. Primary disinfection kills or inactivates bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful organisms that lead to infectious diseases such as typhoid fever, hepatitis, and cholera. Chlorine is ranked as a primary disinfectant and remains the disinfectant most often used to treat water in America.
Secondary disinfection provides longer-lasting water treatment as water moves through pipes to consumers. Secondary disinfection kills potentially harmful organisms that may get in water as it moves through pipes. Monochloramine is commonly used as a secondary disinfectant.3
How do chlorine and chloramine rank as disinfectants?
Chlorine is known as a stronger disinfectant than chloramine, but chloramine lasts longer in the journey through reservoirs, pumping stations, and pipes between the municipal water plant and your home. According to the EPA, chloramine can only be an effective primary disinfectant in limited situations. Chloramine takes much longer than chlorine to kill most potentially harmful organisms, making it impractical as a primary disinfectant for most utilities. However, Chloramine lasts longer than chlorine, making it useful as a secondary disinfectant.4
How long have chlorine and chloramine been used to treat water supplies?
Chlorine and chloramine have both been used as disinfectants since the early 1900s. According to the CDC, chloramine has been used as a drinking water disinfectant in the U.S. in cities like Springfield, Illinois, and Lansing, Michigan since 1929.5
What are disinfection byproducts and why should we care about them?
Disinfection byproducts (DBPs) are formed when chlorine or monochloramine react with organic matter in the water.
According to the EPA, certain DBPs have been linked to:
- Increased incidence of bladder cancer
- Effects on liver, kidney, central nervous system, and reproductive system
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) concurs that disinfection byproducts act as human carcinogens.
There are many factors that influence the concentration and type of DPBs, including source water type, water temperature, levels of natural organic matter, and amount and type of disinfectants used.6
Why have some water utilities switched to chloramine?
The application of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant in treating drinking water increased in 2006 when the EPA updated regulations for two disinfection byproducts (DBPs): total trihalomethanes (TTHM) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). These disinfection byproducts are produced by the reaction of chlorine with naturally occurring organic matter in water supply sources. Basically, the more organic matter in the water, the higher the production of DBPs after adding chlorine. Water utilities encountered difficulty meeting the 2006 lower threshold DBP limits when disinfecting with chlorine. Trying chloramine disinfection, they realized fewer regulated DBPs were produced.
Simply stated, many water districts switched from chlorine disinfection (with regulated DBPs) to chloramine disinfection (with unregulated DBPs) in order not to fail EPA limit tests.
After switching from chlorine to chloramine, water utilities also reported fewer consumer concerns about the odor and taste of their water.7 (Residual chlorine is characterized by a “swimming pool smell.”)
Does the EPA regulate chloramine?
Chloramine levels are regulated by the EPA. The Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level (MRDL) for chloramine is 4.0 parts per million (ppm). The MRDL is the level of a drinking water disinfectant below which there is no known or expected risk to health.8
Why should you be concerned about chloramine in your water?
Chloramine has been used in disinfection for almost as long as chlorine, but it has not been studied nearly as well as chlorine disinfection.
Here are a few of the known disadvantages:
- Chloramine cannot be removed by boiling water
- Chloramine must be removed from water before being used for dialysis patients
- Chloramine makes different disinfection byproducts than chlorine and EPA safety levels for chloramine DBPs have not been established
- When chloramine replaces chlorine, it raises the amount of lead leaching into water from lead in pipes
- Chloramine is toxic to frogs and other amphibians, fish, and aquatic life
- No scientific studies have been conducted on chloramine’s effects on your skin or respiratory tract (such as exposure during a shower or bath)9
What can be concluded about the use of chloramine for disinfection?
This resource stated it well:
“Thus, while chloramine is a longer lasting disinfectant that results in fewer of the well-understood, regulated byproducts, it presents a greater risk when it comes to the disinfection byproducts we don’t yet fully understand and regulate, and also increases the risk of lead and copper exposure in homes with older plumbing”.10
If your local water plant uses chloramine, how can you protect your family?
Chloramine is difficult to remove from your water, but not impossible. It is important to think of all of the ways you could be exposed to chloramine and its byproducts in your home. First, drinking water from your taps. Second, bottled water not certified to be chloramine-free. Third, bath and shower water.
The following actions DO NOT REDUCE chloramine in your water:
- Boiling your water
- Letting your water sit out in an open container
- Showerhead filters (they cannot keep up with the high flow rate, large volume of water passing through your shower)
So, what is an effective way to reduce chloramine in your home?
Water utilities are faced with the impossible task of delivering clean, safe water through long distances. They need to protect against disease-causing microorganisms and viruses and at the same time, assure that this protection extends through miles of pipes between the municipal plant and your home. On top of that, they need to protect against harmful disinfection byproducts
You have no personal choice over whether chloramine is used in your municipal water plant. But you can do something about reducing chloramine in your drinking, cooking, bathing, and shower water.
Chloramine has its function, but that function has been fulfilled by the time the municipality’s treated water enters your home. The chloramine has done its job; and now it’s time to dispense with it before it does harm.
According to Mercola, “A whole-house filtration system is your best choice to remove chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, DBPs, and other contaminants from all your water sources (bath, shower, and tap)”.11
Imagine that all your incoming water goes through a broad spectrum catalytic carbon filter that effectively reduces chloramine and other contaminants. This purified, safer water goes to all the taps and showerheads in your home.
Please consider a whole house water system with catalytic carbon filtration to help protect your family.
For more information about cleaner, safer water, go to the following site:
You can find out whether your city uses chloramines by going to this website (2015 data), https://www.dudegrows.com/watercheck/. Another source is the EPA required annual Water Quality report each water utility is required to publish (search for EPA required Water Quality reports with your ZIP Code).
- https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water- regulations#Disinfectants