25 Aug, 2020

Hanover and the chloramine dilemma.

  1. Chlorine is diluted with ammonia to make chloramine.
  2. Using chloramine can reduce disinfectant byproducts like THMs by up to 30%.
  3. Chloramine is the cheapest solution for town’s to comply with already lax EPA contaminant guidelines. The EPA’s maximum contamination level for THMs is 80 ppb but 50 ppb in the EU.
  4. The increasing use of chloramine for complying with EPA contamination guidelines is a natural function of more things being buried and landfilled that become dissolved volatile organics that mutate into disinfectant byproducts when they contact chlorine or chloramine.
  5. The unregulated ammonia used is proven to be as toxic to our immune system as the regulated THMs and other contaminants but the municipalities don’t have to account for this danger.
  6. The THMs associated with chlorine are cytotoxic (tough on our immune system).
  7. The THMs associated with chloramine are both cytotoxic and genotoxic (can alter your DNA)
  8. Your exposure to this ammonia is 20-100X more than THMs because it enters your blood stream directly through your lungs in the shower.
  9. This ammonia has shown in many private/university/WHO studies to have many negative effects on respiratory system, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and renal systems.
  10. Chloramine can extract lead from your plumbing system and eat away at copper pipes, fixtures, and rubber seals.
  11. Chloramine is 2000-10000 times less powerful than chlorine at killing e coli bacteria and rotavirus.
  12. You can not smell or taste the ammonia or very toxic THMs in chloramine treated water.
  13. The EPA has performed many public studies on chlorine but NOT ONE on the use of chloramine for VERY obvious reasons.
  14. Chloramine is very harmful to fish, pets, and those on kidney dialysis machines.
  15. Boiling water, reverse osmosis, point of use systems, and large whole house systems using granular activated carbon will not remove the ammonia or disinfectant byproducts in water treated with chloramine.

 More on chloramine: 

While chlorine has traditionally been the most common water disinfectant, used to control microorganisms and pathogens that cause diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, it is not without problems. Chlorine has been found to cause disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Some of these byproducts are linked to cancer in lab animals. One of the byproducts, trihalomethanes (THMs) are believed to be the cause of as much as 17% of bladder cancers diagnosed in the U.S. every year.

Now many municipalities are turning to chloramine to disinfect water. It is created by adding ammonia to drinking water containing chlorine. Because chloramine is a weaker disinfectant vs. chlorine, it remains more effective in our water distribution pipelines for a longer period of time. Chloramine also creates much lower levels of DBPs. For these reasons, many water utilities have switched their preferred method of disinfection to chloramine.

However, using chloramine has some distinct disadvantages of its own. For example, it can release lead from metal corrosion, biofilms, and nitrification, to say nothing of its health effects. While the U.S. EPA says that chloramine is safe to drink, bathe in, and cook with, it acknowledges that those with chemical sensitivity to it can have side effects such as skin problems. Further, those with weak immune systems, such as transplant or AIDS patients, should not drink chloraminated water. It must also be removed prior to being used in kidney dialysis machines. Chloramine can be dangerous to infants when it gets converted to nitrate through naturally occurring bacteria in the water.

Chloramine can also cause pinhole leaks in plumbing and can react with certain rubber hoses and gaskets and cause swelling, and black or greasy particles. In restaurants, it has been known to cause issues with ice machines and coffee makers.

It is also toxic to fish, amphibians and water-based reptiles.

Many water utilities are moving to chloramine disinfection. Some switch back and forth between chlorine and chloramine. Make sure you’re protected. Get a system that removes both chlorine and chloramine.

At first, scientists knew only that chloramine didn’t produce the same byproducts chlorine did. But over time they learned that it could produce worrisome byproducts of its own, including chemicals called nitrosamines.

“Nitrosamines are the compounds that people warned you about when they told you you shouldn’t be eating those nitrite-cured hot dogs,”

Sedlak says.

“They’re about a thousand times more carcinogenic than the disinfection byproducts that we’d been worried about with regular old chlorine.”

Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, which is added to the water of many cities as a substitute for free chlorine. It is often referred to in the plural, as chloramines, because it can take on a number of forms according to the pH and mineral content of the water.

  • Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. 
  • Chloramine is used to disinfect water supplies (like the Hetch Hetchy system.) Water utilities often refer to chloramine as monochloramine. 
  • In reality, chloramine exists as three different forms or species: monochloramine (NH2Cl), dichloramine (NHCl2) and trichloramine (NCl3). They are chemically related and are easily converted into each other; thus, they are more appropriately called chloramines. 
  • The three species of chloramine constantly and rapidly shift from one form to another. The species that predominates is dependent on pH, temperature, turbulence, and the chlorine to ammonia ratio. 
  • Even time plays a factor because after a day or so, with no changes in conditions, monochloramine in a water system will slowly degrade to form dichloramine and some trichloramine. 
  • Chloramines are all respiratory irritants with trichloramine being the most toxic (order of toxicity: monochloramine < dichloramine (trichloramine-most severe.) 
  • In contrast to what water utilities claim, it is impossible to have only monochloramine. It is not unusual in water systems for harmful di and trichloramines to occur. 

Why Do Water Companies Use Chloramine to Treat Your Water?

Since chlorine makes by-products when it interacts with organic matter in the source or raw water, the EPA has ruled that those by-products must be reduced by the year 2012. Chloramine does help reduce chlorine by-products. Additionally, a “residual” or chemical in the pipe lines from the plant to our houses is needed to kill bacteria in the water on its way to our homes. Chloramine is a good chemical for that purpose because is does not dissipate and will remain in the lines to fight bacteria all the way to our homes. 

However, Chloramine creates its own by-products that are more toxic than those of chlorine and are genotoxic, which means they attack our DNA. There are other methods of reducing chlorine by-products and cleaning the water as it runs through the lines without using chloramines. 

Why Should I Be Concerned About Chloramines?

Toxic By-products – In recent studies funded and conducted by the EPA, scientists have discovered many by-products of chloramines that are cytotoxic and genotoxic. These byproducts are mutagens and have the potential to cause cancer and birth defects. Some of the known by-products are Iodoacetic Acid, Hydrazine and Nitrosamines. 

These by-products are created in the water purification process. See more under Studies. While the EPA has studied these by-products and determined them to be “potent” carcinogens, they are only in the beginning stages of regulating them. 

Health Concerns – In addition to the long-term effects of the by-products discussed above, hundreds of people in other areas of the country in chloramines service areas are reporting respiratory and skin problems related to the use of chloraminated water. When chloramine undergoes heat or pH changes, it changes to di and tri-chloramines. Tri-chloramine is a potent respiratory irritant. 

People are reporting difficulty breathing during and after showering and rashes, both of which resolve when they leave their water source for a week or two and which return upon return to the water source. CDC is currently investigating the reported cases in Vermont. There are studies that indicate that chloraminated water may adversely react with certain prescription medications. See Studies for more information. 

As I mentioned, this is to prolong the effects of the chlorine.

To give you an idea of how stable chloramine is compared to chlorine, if you leave treated tap water out at room temperature the chlorine evaporates completely out of the water in about 4 hours. Chloramine, on the other hand, takes over 24 hours to evaporate from tap water and never totally. There will still be some residual amount left behind. 

This also highlights how removing chloramine is going to be a bit more complicated than getting rid of chlorine.

Chloramines May Raise Your Water’s Level of Toxic Unregulated Disinfection Byproducts

If you receive municipal water that is treated with chlorine or chloramines, toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs) form when these disinfectants react with natural organic matter like decaying vegetation in the source water.

DBPs are over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminants present in your water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs are likely the absolute worst of the bunch.

Already, it’s known that trihalomethanes (THMs), one of the most common DBPs, are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they’ve been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. They’ve also been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, such as spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, and congenital malformations, even at lower levels. These types of DBPs can also:

  • Weaken your immune system
  • Disrupt your central nervous system
  • Damage your cardiovascular system
  • Disrupt your renal system
  • Cause respiratory problems

One of the benefits often touted about chloramines is that they produce lower levels of regulated DBPs, such as THMs, compared to chlorine. They still produce them, just at lower levels.

In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Stage 1 Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which required water treatment systems to reduce the formation of DBPs. This has led to an increasing number of treatment plants switching from chlorine to chloramine …

Many believe this makes chloramine the superior choice in terms of safety, but what is less publicized is that compared to chlorine, water treated with monochloramine (the most common form of chloramine used to disinfect drinking water) may contain higher concentrations of unregulated disinfection byproducts – the risks of which are unknown.

Considering that many water utilities treat their water with both chlorine and chloramine, you may be getting the most of both regulated and unregulated DBPs in your drinking water, shower and bath (the DBPs that enter your body through your skin during showering or bathing also go directly into your bloodstream). There are, in fact, as many as 600 different toxic DBPs that have been identified, and to which you may be exposed through treated water.

Higher Lead Levels in Water Linked to Chloramines

There are other issues with chloramine in your water that you should be aware of, like its potential to extract lead from old water pipes. For example, when you combine chloramines with the fluoride (hydrofluorosilicic acid) added to most of the U.S. water supply, they become very effective at extracting lead from old plumbing systems—essentially, together, they promote the accumulation of lead in the water supply!

In fact the two of them have been combined, and I believe patented to be put together so that they could extract lead

said fluoride activist Jeff Green.

Lead, a known toxin to your brain and nervous system, is so toxic that it has been banned in gasoline and children’s toys, and lead paint hasn’t been in use since 1978. But even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that when chlorine is replaced with chloramines in drinking water, it raises not only the amount of lead that leaches into water, but the blood lead levels of children who consume it!

“When the free chlorine was replaced with chloramines, the transformed highly insoluble lead scale minerals were no longer stable and dissolved. Therefore, a substantial level of lead was released from the lead service lines into drinking water at the tap.

CDC reviewed the relationship between BLLs [blood lead levels] in children, the presence of a lead service line, and water disinfection practices in DC during 1998–2006. The study reported that the presence of a lead service line was associated with higher BLLs in children. This relationship was most pronounced during 2001 through June 2004, when chloramines were used to disinfect the drinking water without adequate corrosion control.

An observational study in which the BLLs of children were matched to population-based data of water lead levels during periods when water disinfection practices changed in DC concluded that the increase in water lead levels was associated with an increase in the BLLs of children.

An analysis in Environmental Health Perspectives also found that introducing chloramines may increase the lead in drinking water, and pointed out that although anti-corrosive agents added during the treatment process are supposed to mitigate this risk, they aren’t always effective:5

“Several recent studies provided evidence that the introduction of chloramines to water systems with lead-containing pipes, fixtures, or solder may increase the amount of dissolved lead in water because of changes in water chemistry; interactions with additives such as coagulants or fluoridation agents may remove lead dioxide scales originally formed during decades of chlorine-based disinfection.

This leaching might be managed to some extent by the addition of anticorrosivity agents during the water treatment process; however, the details of all the related environmental chemistry are not fully understood and are highly dependent on the particular chemical interactions found in each water treatment and distribution system.

Many Residents Voice Concerns Over Chloramines, Safety Studies Seriously Lacking

Residents across the United States from California and Oklahoma to Vermont have voiced concerns over chloramine safety, wondering whether it’s truly as safe as water utilities would like you to believe. At the very least, the chemical has been linked to skin irritations and rashes, noted Robert Howd of the California EPA:6

” …chloramines, like chlorine, can irritate sensitive mucus membranes, and could potentially cause skin irritation. When some utilities have switched to chloramine, there have been user reports of bad-tasting water, a bad feel of the water on the skin, skin irritation, and other symptoms.”

Furthermore, according to the EPA, no scientific studies on chloramine’s effects on your skin or respiratory tract via inhalation have been conducted. And while some cancer studies have been, they are so limited that they are not able to conclusively determine if chloramine might, in fact, cause cancer.7

This is concerning, since exposure to chloramine in your indoor air while bathing and showering may represent your greatest route of exposure, even more so than drinking it.

Also the cancer studies on chloramine itself are so limited that they cannot be used to determine if chloramine is a carcinogen, and its environmental effects are worrisome. Chloramine is toxic to frogs and other amphibians, reptiles, fish and other aquatic and marine life, to the extent that you cannot use chloramine-treated water to fill up a fish tank or backyard fish pond. As the water runs into streams, rivers and other marine areas, it could be disastrous for the marine life.

So while water utilities stand to save money by cutting chlorine costs with chloramine, the benefits to the public are far less clear. Other potential concerns include:8

  • Because of chloramine’s corrosive nature, it has been linked to pinhole pitting in copper water pipes, which can lead to small water leaks and mold growth in your home
  • Chloramine also corrodes rubber toilet flappers and gaskets, rubber hoses, and rubber fittings in dishwashers and water heaters, leading to costly home repairs
  • Chloramine de-elasticizes PVC pipes, making them brittle and accelerating the leaching of possible carcinogens from the plastic into drinking water

Chloramine is Difficult to Remove From Your Water, But it Can be Done

Chloramine cannot be removed by quick boiling your water or letting it sit out in an open container (as is sometimes recommended for chlorine). A carbon filter can remove the chemical from your drinking water, but that leaves your shower and bath – a significant route of exposure — without protection. It would be helpful to take as cold a shower as possible as heat will convert more of the chemicals to a toxic gas. Additionally shorter showers will also obviously further limit your exposure.

Because of the high flow rate and large volume of water passing through your shower, there is no showerhead filter on the market that will effectively remove all chloramine. A whole-house filtration system is therefore your best choice to remove chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, DBPs and other contaminants from all of your water sources (bath, shower and tap).

What is catalytic carbon? 

Catalytic carbon is activated carbon that has gone through additional treatment to enhance carbon’s capacity to facilitate chemical changes. Chemical reactions require a catalyst. The surface area of catalytic carbon has been structurally enhanced and altered to provide a space for chemical reactions to occur. Catalytic carbon still possesses the remarkable adsorption properties of activated carbon, but it has been supercharged to target other contaminants as well. This includes chloramines. When chloramines come in contact with the catalytic carbon, a chemical reaction catalyzes a separation of the ammonia and the chlorine and converts them into harmless compounds in the water. 

Catalytic carbon is most often found in whole-house filtration systems. Installed at the point-of-entry, all of the water flowing into the home passes through the catalytic carbon. Chloramines, (as well as VOCs and hydrogen sulfide) are all greatly reduced by the filtration system. The water from your tap is free from the chemical taste and odor, and your baths and showers are free from stinging, burning, and itching sensations. 

Why doesn’t activated carbon remove chloramines? 

Chlorine, on contact with the carbon, chemically alters into the harmless compound called chloride. Carbon filters have expansive surface areas with these exchange sites and are remarkable at removing standard chlorine from water supplies. Chloramines, however, have unique stability as a compound. Upon contact with activated carbon, they are not catalyzed with the same efficiency and speed. In order for activated carbon to remove chloramines, very extensive contact time is required to successfully break the ammonia and chlorine apart. This makes them a poor choice for chloramine reduction, as you could not run a shower or fill a bath with such reduced flow rates. Since skin sensitivity is one of the primary reasons people eliminate chloramines, a filtration system capable of sustaining at least a moderate flow rate is crucial for success.

Read more about how activated carbon works.

Does reverse osmosis remove chloramines?  

The reverse osmosis membrane alone technically does not remove chloramines. However, reverse osmosis systems are equipped with multiple pre-filters. The carbon in these pre-filters is able to remove chloramines, because of how slowly the reverse osmosis process works. Reverse osmosis purifies water one drop at a time, passing the water through a semi-permeable membrane capable of rejecting a host of contaminants like arsenic, salts, and boron. The rejected, contaminant-ridden water (called brine) is sent to the drain. The purified water, called permeate, is collected in a storage tank. When you desire access to cold, distilled water, it is pulled from the storage tank and delivered to your tap.

Reverse osmosis has a very slow rate of production, meaning that the carbon filters in front of the RO membrane have ample contact time with the water. As discussed above, the stability of the chloramine compound is difficult to disrupt. Reverse osmosis systems are not the answer for addressing one’s main exposure of ammonia through breathing in the shower and the final result can be a false sense of protection while drinking water that will leach essential minerals from your body.

5. Toxic to fish and plants 

If you own an aquarium, be very careful you do not replenish the fish tank with water containing chloramines. Fish have very fragile internal organs and are extremely sensitive to chemicals like chloramines. Hydroponics farmers or hobbyists should be careful to eliminate chloramines from their water, as exposure to the chemical can upset the delicate balance of the nutrient solution and result in the death of their crops. Chloramines interfere with a host of other water-based industries and hobbies. From brewing beer to brewing coffee, chloramines will offset the flavor profile of any beverage it is introduced to. Additionally, water with chloramines should never be used in a medical or laboratory setting. Be careful to make sure any dialysis machine or CPAP machine is not utilizing water with chloramines, as it could result in adverse health effects. 

4. Corrosion

Not only are chloramines destructive to rubber, its been recently revealed they have corrosive properties that can damage metal pipes. When chloramines are added to public water supplies, sometimes the water undergoes a transformation of chemical properties. This, in conjunction with lowered pH and alkalinity, can result in corroded pipes. Another process, called nitrification, occurs when corrosion control is not optimized and the ammonia in the water converts into nitrates.  If left unchecked, copper plumbing in homes can spring pinhole leaks. Often these can be hidden and the homeowner may be unaware of them until substantial damage has already transpired. 

Even worse, this corrosion can introduce lead into the water if proper corrosion control is not in place. This exact even happened in Washington, D.C. When they switched from chlorine to chloramines in their water supply, they did not properly adjust the corrosion control of their water. As a result, many D.C. residents were accidentally exposed to lead. Lead is extremely toxic and ingesting it presents a host of health problems, stunts development in children, and harms pregnant women and unborn children. 

1. Skin and eye irritation

Chloramines’ biggest offense is their aggravation of skin conditions and irritation of the eyes and sinuses. Some people with skin sensitivity find themselves breaking out in rashes after bathing or showering in water with chloramines. If you have a pre-existing skin condition, like eczema, or acne, chloramines can severely exacerbate these problems. They’re known to cause hive-like outbreaks and cause your skin to dry out and become scaly and flaky. While ideally this could be solved by installing a shower filter, unfortunately, almost all shower filters are incapable of removing chloramines because of their design. They simply don’t possess the vast amount of expensive carbon to adequately treat the water.

Chloramines also cause eye irritation. Some people emerge from the shower with stinging, bloodshot eyes like you spent an hour in the pool after exposure to chloramines. It can upset your nasal passages, your mucous membranes, and your sinuses as well. This is because in enclosed spaces (like a shower stall) you are inhaling the chloramines as vapor as you shower. For people with sensitivity to chloramines, this can trigger extreme discomfort in their sinuses. 

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