What is chloramine?
Chloramine is a water disinfectant used by more and more municipal water treatment plants to inactivate microorganisms, including pathogens that can cause waterborne diseases. It is generated onsite by adding ammonia to drinking water containing chlorine. Chloramine is a weaker disinfectant compared to free chlorine. It is chemically more stable and remains more effective in the distribution system over a longer period of time.
History of chloramine?
Chloramine as a water disinfectant is not new. It has been used by water utilities since 1918 (Denver, CO). But its use had been mostly marginal compared to free chlorine until early 1970. In the early 1970s, free chlorine was found to interact with natural organic matter (NOM) in drinking water supplies to form products known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs), such as trihalomethanes (THMs). Some of these products have been linked to cancer in laboratory animals and may cause other adverse health effects. In tap water, THMs are believed to be responsible for as much as 17 percent of the bladder cancers diagnosed each year in the US. To protect public health, US EPA has established disinfection byproduct regulations. In order to comply with EPA regulations, more and more municipal water utilities started to turn to chloramine as a solution. Its pace of adoption increased significantly during 1990s. Today, it is estimated that over 1/3 of American have chloramine in their tap water.
What happened to citizen after switching to chloramine as a disinfectant?
When many cities switched over to chloramine, an increasing number of their citizens reported rashes, respiratory problems, and digestive issues, some of those life threating. In Champlain, Vermont, for example, more than three hundred of people had reported health related issues when the city water system added chloramine to its water in 2006. In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, many grassroots citizen groups were formed to raise awareness about the effects of chloramines as a drinking water disinfectant, and documenting the serious health effects of chloramine. A national coalition was formed to lead and orchestrate the effort.
Limited research about chloramine related health effects
Even though CDC has indicated that using or drinking water with small amounts of chloramine does not cause harmful health effects, some known facts and research results ring alarming bell.
Chloramines are toxic to kidney dialysis patients and extremely toxic to fish.
A nationwide study on water treatment contaminants conducted by the EPA reported that chloraminated drinking water had the highest levels of an unregulated chemical family known as iodoacids (EPA 2002). Some researchers consider iodoacids to be potentially the most toxic group of water treatment contaminants found to date, but there is still relatively little research on them (Barlow 2004, Plewa 2004). Other dangerous compounds formed by chloramine are nitrosamines. The U.S. government says some chemicals in the nitrosamine family are “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens.
In a 2011 report called “The Chlorine Dilemma,” David Sedlak, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, detailed the “dark side” of water treatment and the new and unanticipated hazards of water treatment plants’ shift from chlorine to chloramine. “Nitrosamines are the compounds that people warned you about when they told you you shouldn’t be eating those nitrite-cured hot dogs,” Sedlak told National Public Radio in 2011. “They’re about a thousand times more carcinogenic than the disinfection byproducts that we’d been worried about with regular old chlorine.”
Using chloramine has some other disadvantages as well, including lead release and plumbing issues from metal corrosion as chloraminated water is more corrosive. Chloramine can impact the taste of beverage. Ammonia from chloramine can be converted by naturally occurring bacteria through nitrification to form nitrite and nitrate that can be harmful to infants.
Toxic showers and baths
Surprisingly, the major health threat posed by chloramine is far more likely to be from their inhalation as air pollutants in the home, according to preliminary data from a study done by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The research data indicates that hot showers can liberate between 50 to 80 percent of the dissolved chemicals into the air. Emissions from hot baths are half as high.
Chloramine actually exists in three forms: monochloramine, dichloramine, and trichloramine. Monochloramine is what’s been used as the disinfectant. But the three forms constantly and rapidly shift from one form to another. These chemicals vaporize easily out of the water that is heated and aerosolized. All three forms are respiratory irritants, with trichloramine being the most toxic.
It is interesting to note that allergies are on the rise in US kids according to a government study. The rising trend happens around the country at a time when chloramine is being used more and more.
Other than respiratory issues, chloramine can cause skin irritation from light symptoms like dry and itchy skin to more severe conditions like rash, burning sensation, blistering, scarring etc. Chloramine can aggravate other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff.
Similar to skin condition, chloramine can also strip the moisture off hair, causing it dry, brittle and porous. Along with skin irritation, it can also aggravate hair loss.
About chloramine filtration
As chloramine is much stable than chlorine, it is also much harder to be removed. Regular activated carbon does very little in the removal of chloramine. Vitamin C filter does not lower it (total chlorine) at all in field test. Catalytic carbon is the most effective at filtering chloramine, and has been the media of choice by professionals. Catalytic carbon is specially manufactured to enhance its catalytic property, which indicates the speed of chemical reaction that decompose chloramine. Higher catalytic property means better and faster capability in chloramine removal.