Chlorine and chloramines are disinfectants used to make water safe for consumption. However, their powerful disinfectant properties can lead to other health issues. Learn more about water treatment and options for water quality below.
Modern city, or civic water treatment centers ensure that water utility customers are able to use their water safely. But what do we know about the chemicals used to disinfect our water supplies? Learn more about Chlorine and Chloramines and how they effect water and health.
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. 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. Chlorine can remain in contact with water for about 30 minutes. It acts as a safeguard against the risk of microbial contamination after treatment.
Chlorine effectiveness is measured using a process involving a chemical compound called Diethylparaphenylenediamine (DPD). When chlorine is present in water, DPD reacts and produces a red color. Chlorine residue provides prolonged protection needed to kill harmful substances that can remain after the first 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 Effect 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.
Chloramines are chemical compounds created when ammonia is included (or mixed) with chlorine for the treatment of large scale water sources. Chloramines can serve as an alternative or be used in conjunction with chlorine.
Like chlorine, chloramines are 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. Chloramines disinfection produces very little THMs and other disinfection byproducts.
Chloramines also provide 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. Chloramines are weaker than Chlorine, but approximately 10 times more difficult to remove.
Chloramine’s Effect on Drinking Water
Current studies indicate that using or drinking water with small amounts of chloramine does not cause harmful health effects and provides protection against waterborne disease outbreak. These studies reported no observed health effects from drinking water with chloramine levels of less than 50 mg/L in drinking water.
A normal level for drinking water disinfection can range from 1.0 to 4.0 mg/L. Skin, eye, and respiratory problems have been linked to dichloramine and trichloramine exposure in relation to indoor swimming pools and hot tubs. However, dichloramine and trichloramine are typically not an issue in treated drinking water, which uses monochloramine, because utilities carefully monitor the water quality. Chloramine levels up to 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 4 parts per million (ppm) are considered safe in drinking water. At these levels, no harmful health effects are likely to occur.
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