Chloramine in Your Water and What You Need to Know

chloramine in waterThere are two types of water:  “working water” and drinking water.  Working water is what we use to wash clothes, water our lawns, shower ourselves, or otherwise use in ways we do NOT ingest.  Drinking water, on the other hand, is the water we intake directly—either by drinking or indirectly through cooking—and represents only about two percent of the water we use.

A long time ago, people used and drank water out of rivers, lakes, or man-made wells.  When we became more civilized, we used and drank water that came from aqueducts (think Roman times).  During those times, water was easily contaminated by disease-causing biological agents like typhoid and cholera, which often resulted in death.  That still happens today in remote regions of the world, where clean, drinkable water is scarce, and water-borne diseases are rampant.  In those areas, people routinely boil their water before drinking it. 

In this country, we are privileged to have water delivered directly to our homes through municipal water systems.  Between the water source and our homes, the water is generally disinfected, and it is considered safe, clean, and drinkable. 

According to an “All Things Considered” segment on National Public Radio on January 7, 2011, “Water systems across the country are changing the way they disinfect drinking water because the traditional disinfectant, chlorine, can leave behind toxic chemicals.”  Disinfection byproducts (DBPs) are generally toxic.  So the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came up with an alternative solution:  use the chemical cousin of chlorine, chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia.  But it had problems of its own.  It produced a DBP called nitrosamine, a well-known carcinogen.    While most water companies were able to take steps to prevent nitrosamines from forming in treated water, something else was happening as well.  Chloramines leached lead from lead pipes, according to Marc Edwards, a civil engineer from Virginia Tech who published a study of lead levels in children living in Washington, D.C.

Aside from DBPs entering our drinking water, we need to be concerned about emerging contaminants, a new category to be monitored.  According to the Water Quality Association (www.wqa.org), endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and pharmaceuticals and personal care products  (PPCPs) pass right through the human body and end up in the water supply.  Researchers have found trace amounts of these contaminants in water throughout the country.

If your home is connected to a municipal water supply, you will be in contact with chlorine or, more recently, chloramines.  Chloramine disinfection is used by many water companies in the Bay Area; you can always check with your water supplier to find out whether it uses chlorine or chloramines.  These chemicals, usually measured in parts per million (ppm), often affect the taste and odor of the water coming into your home.   In the case of chlorine, most water suppliers aim for one ppm, an amount that dissipates over time and distance, so in order to achieve one ppm to the last house on the distribution line, the amount of chemicals may be higher in a house closer to the source of the water supply. 

While disinfection with chlorine or chloramines solves one problem—disinfection—it introduces others.  For example, like chlorine, chloramines may have an unpleasant taste.  It also has qualities that are unsuitable for certain manufacturing processes.  According to http://www.sfwater.org, many manufacturers routinely use a chloramine filter prior to manufacturing computer chips, medical supplies, or pharmaceuticals.  Chloramine removal is necessary in water used for kidney dialysis or in water used by pet stores that sell fish, amphibians, and reptiles.  Breweries use chloramines removal systems, along with photo labs and many biotech companies as well. 

Chloramine can also cause leaching of lead from lead pipes, lead soldering, and from so-called lead-free brass plumbing parts.  Chloramine can be equally troublesome for copper pipes, causing pinhole pitting and corrosion of rubber plumbing parts, including toilet flappers and rubber casings, as well as pesky leaky faucets.  These facts are corroborated by Marc Edwards, the Charles P. Lundsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts in water corrosion in home plumbing. One pinhole leak in a home isn’t bad, but more than two, and you have to call in the plumber or insurer, who usually recommend replacing the plumbing at a cost of $2,000 to $6000 or more.  If those leaks cause mold problems inside the walls, the home’s resale value could plummet, he says.  Edwards was baffled by leaks occurring in copper pipes, which have been used for more than a century and typically last 50 years.  Some of the pipes he examined had developed leaks after 18 months of being installed, and one house had a leak every inch—like a sprinkler hose.

In a study he performed in 2004 for the city of Washington, D.C., he was asked to identify the reason for the significant rise of lead in the city’s pipes.  The culprit:  chloramines.  According to the study, chloramine leaches lead not only out of lead pipes, but even from so-called lead-free brass (which actually contains 8 percent lead) and lead-containing solder used to join copper tubes before it was banned in 1986.  The city had never had a problem until it changed from chlorine as a disinfectant to chloramines. You can read more about this at http://www.prism-magazine.org/nov04/feature_water.cfm.

The oxidizing characteristic of chloramine can aggravate skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and is a known skin irritant.  Everyone has experienced the shortness of breath that comes after swimming for too long in a chlorinated pool on a hot day.  Both chlorine and ammonia, as separate chemical agents, damage mucous membranes, like that found in our delicate respiratory passages.  Working together as chloramine, the chemical also damages mucous membranes.  Exposure to ammonia alone breaks down cell structural proteins, extracts water from the cells, and initiates an inflammatory response.  According to the EPA, some people who drink water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose; additionally, the EPA states that some people who drink water containing chloramines well in excess of EPA's standard could experience stomach discomfort or anemia.

Having chloramines disinfect your water supply by your water company is a good thing, but you don’t need it coming into your house, where your pipes and drinking water are affected.  So what is the solution? The Water Quality Association recommends that you install in-home water purification, whole-house water filtration systems, and/or reverse osmosis drinking water systems that have been rigorously tested and certified to independent standards.  Kinetico Water Systems are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and the Water Quality Association (WQA).   A whole-house water filtration system and reverse osmosis drinking water system manufactured by Kinetico Water Systems can deliver high-quality water and peace of mind.

For more information about your water, please contact De Anza Water Conditioning at 408.371.5521 or customer@deanzawater.com.