Chlorine and Chloramines: Problems and Solutions

Chlorine and Chloramines: Problems and Solutions

Water is a fundamental human need. Individuals require about 50 liters of clean, safe water a day for drinking, cooking, and bathing. 

However, it is very common for water to be polluted by contaminants and toxic substances, making it harmful to consume. In order to ensure that our water is safe to drink, we add chemicals for disinfection and treatment.

Chlorine and chloramine are disinfectants used to make water safe for consumption. However, their powerful disinfectant properties can lead to other health issues and may need filtration treatment to make your water safe and healthy.

What is Chlorine and Why Do We Use It?

Chlorine is an oxidizing agent that has strong disinfectant and bleaching qualities. It is dependable and potent against an extensive list of pathogenic organisms.

Chlorine residue, even at low levels, is harmful to microorganisms, and will kill or deactivate them. Many microorganisms found in water lead to disease.

A benefit of chlorine residue is that it stays in the water, continuing disinfection even after the first treatment, and its performance can be studied and measured. It acts as a safeguard against the risk of microbial contamination after treatment.

However, chlorine oxidizes organic matter in water, which builds more hazardous compounds. Some parasites also still remain active when low percentages of chlorine are used.

Chlorine’s Effects on Drinking Water

Chlorine residue is very common in treated drinking water and can be identified based on its bleach-like smell and flavor. Chlorine can also be an irritant to the eyes, the upper respiratory tract, skin and lungs. This can lead to wheezing, airway irritation, dry skin and chest tightness.

How is Chlorine Treated?

A home water filtration system can reduce hazardous chlorine levels in drinking or household water. Whole house or point-of-entry (POE) systems filter all the water in a home. Point of use (POU) filters - such as faucet filters, pitcher filters or shower filters - can be used to protect skin, hair, and lungs.

One of the most efficient ways to treat chlorine taste and odor is by using a carbon water filter. Activated carbon can be used in both POE and POU water treatment appliances.

Dechlorination is helpful to eliminate chlorine residues and toxicity, but is not suitable in most domestic applications.

Sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, and sodium metabisulfite are often used as dechlorinating chemicals. A reverse osmosis system also effectively reduces hazardous contaminants.

Chlorine Reduction versus Chlorine Taste and Odor Reduction

For the treatment of chlorine’s aesthetic - taste and odor - issues, activated carbon filters are an effective option. These are known as “polishing filters”.

To reduce the total amount of chlorine in a given water source, more robust filters or filtration systems are necessary, such as reverse osmosis systems. These can also be used to reduce contaminants in the drinking water as well as help with taste and smell.

What is Chloramine and Why Do We Use It?

Chloramines are chemical compounds created when ammonia is included (or mixed) with chlorine for the treatment of large scale water sources. Chloramine can serve as an alternative or be used in conjunction with chlorine.

Like chlorine, chloramine is used in municipal water supplies to kill harmful bacteria and microorganisms.

Many cities and water treatment facilities are switching from chlorine to chloramines in order to reduce the formation of trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs are organic chemicals that occur in drinking water as a result of chlorine treatment for disinfectant purposes. Chloramine disinfection produces very little THMs and other disinfection byproducts.

Chloramines also provides longer-lasting water treatment as the water travels through the pipes to consumers, as it remains in the water distribution systems longer than free chlorine. Chloramines also remain active much longer within plumbing.

Chloramine's Effects on Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that some people whose water has been affected by high levels of chloramine experience irritation to the eyes and nose, stomach pain, and anemia.

There are various other health concerns that people endure when they come in contact with high percentages of chloramine: skin reactions, respiratory symptoms, and digestive disorders. This can result in chest tightening, irritation to the eyes, and coughing.

How is Chloramine Treated?

Chloramine treatment is a difficult process, and a few filtration sessions are usually needed to see results because it is not as reactive with organic materials, and thereby produces less disinfection byproducts.

Filtration systems available to consumers include under sink filtration systems to prevent high levels from reaching faucets, and whole house applications to treat water intended for entire households.

The filtration process for chloramine is more expensive than traditional chlorine removal. In order to eliminate chloramine, you must use a high quality carbon filter. This process reduces the chlorine portion of the chloramine molecule, producing free chlorine and ammonia molecules.

Traditional carbon filtration can be used to remove the chlorine from source water, but a reverse osmosis system may be needed to remove ammonia. When ammonia is added to water with hypochlorous acid, the making of chloramines takes place. When chloramines are chemically removed from water, ammonia is released.

Still, there is no guarantee that chloramine will be fully reduced from the water. The process of reducing chlorine is much simpler even when using affordable carbon filtration equipment.

The level of chloramine that stays depends upon numerous factors, and it’s important to be aware of how much chlorine and ammonia is added in the separation.

Chlorine and Chloramine Treatment Recommendations

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