Is chloramine in water safe for consumption? Chloramines are used as a disinfectant in public water systems to meet disinfection byproduct requirements. Combine chlorine and ammonia and you have chloramines.
Chloramines are a group of three different chemicals; Monochloramine (NH2CL), Dichloramine (NHCl2), and Trichloramine (NCl3).
These three compounds are closely related and will easily shift into each form depending upon a variety of factors such as water pH, temperature, turbulence, and even ratio of Chlorine to Ammonia.
In this article we’ll discuss the following:
The differences between chloramines and chlorine
Pros and cons of chlorine and chloramines
How to test for chlorine or chloramine
How to remove chloramines from your tap water
Chloramine vs Chlorine
Chloramination is a secondary disinfection process used by the water industry whereby ammonia is added to chlorine during the water treatment process.
Chlorination on the other hand is a primary disinfection process of adding ammonia to chlorinated water to eliminate most of the life-threatening pathogens possibly present in the water reaching treating plants.
The major difference between chloramines and chlorine in the water treatment process is that chloramines are weak disinfectant that are less effective against viruses or protozoa than free chlorine but produce fewer disinfection by-products.
Since the early 20th century many public water systems (PWSs) around the country have been adding ammonia at the end of the water treatment process to form chloramine because chloramines stay in the water longer when it comes to water treatment.
Chloramines are also less reactive with organic matter such as DBP (disinfection by-products). Chloramine will stop the formation of chemical byproducts such as THM during disinfection. Thus, in certain areas where water has to travel farther, chloramines can be more effective to ensure long-term water disinfection.
The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, approved the use of chloramine to disinfect the water before it reaches the consumers through their taps.
However, the question that arises is whether chloramine as a disinfectant is safe for consumption. Let’s look at the pros and cons of using chloramine and using chlorine.
Pros And Cons Of Chlorine and Chloramines
Just like other water treatment methods, chlorine and chloramine have their advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Chloramine
1. Chloramine is commonly used by PWSs instead of chlorine because it can often lead to fewer complaints about taste and smell. Chloramine has a less noticeable odor and taste than chlorine while still protecting water safety and quality.
2. Chlorine is more volatile than chloramine. This makes chloramine stay active in the water longer than chlorine, thus ensuring all areas of the distribution network are properly disinfected.
3. Chlorine is more reactive with naturally occurring organic matter than chloramine. So chloramine will produce lesser amounts of disinfection by-products (DBPs). DBPs are naturally occurring organic compounds that are associated with kidney and liver problems.
Cons of chloramine
1. Chloramines corrode water pipes more than chlorine. When cities and municipalities switch over to a chloramine-based system to comply with DBP regulations, they should be more diligent about the stability of the water infrastructure. when introducing chloramines.
2. Dialysis patients are also more at risk with chloramine.
3. Chloramine affects people with sensitive skin and skin conditions such as Eczema. Chloramine can aggravate skin conditions such as; rashing, dry skin, itching, flaking.
4. Chloramines as respiratory irritants can cause respiratory issues in enclosed areas such as shower cubicles.
5. Chloramines react to organic substances in water supplies it can cause THMs, which have been linked to cancer.
6. Unlike Chlorine, Chloramine has not been as extensively researched and studied. According to the WHO, “monochloramine is about 2,000 – 100,000 times less effective than free chlorine for the inactivation of E. Coli and rotaviruses, respectively.
7. Chloramine is also harmful to fish and aquatic animals. Fish absorb chloramines through their bloodstream. Likewise, humans are at risk if they consume contaminated fish.
8. Not all filter types remove chloramine. Chloramine is more difficult to take out because the chlorine part of the chloramine molecule needs to be separated, followed by a process to remove the ammonia.
9. Chloramine can even impact the results and tastes of baking.
Pros of chlorine
1. Despite its disadvantages, Chlorine remains the primary disinfectant in the majority of municipalities in the US, because of its effectiveness and low cost. It kills many germs and bacteria.
2. It’s much easier to remove chlorine than chloramine from tap water. For example, expose water to the open air for 24 hours, and it will become chlorine-free. Most “big name” water filters lack the capability of removing chloramine.
Cons of chlorine
1. The disinfection byproducts, known as Trihalomethanes (THMs), form when chlorine combines with organic material in the water.
2.Chlorine gas and its by products tend to gather in enclosed areas such as a shower stall; a small bathroom, or a kitchen. Chlorine is a poisonous yellow gas. Even in low concentrations, inhalation can cause respiratory problems. It damages the mucous membranes irritating the respiratory tract.
Do you have chlorine or chloramine in your water? Let’s look at the methods of testing for chlorine and chloramine.
How to test for chloramine or chlorine
The most direct way to determine what is in your tap water is to call your water company and find out what chemicals they are putting into the water supply. There are several chemicals that water companies put into water as part of the disinfection process at different times of the year, depending on water temperature and rainfall amounts, or other factors.
You can find out from your local utility provider, either online or by calling your local office. By law, they are required to let you know the composition of your water.
You can always test your tap water yourself since it can be more difficult to determine if you have chloramines in your water than chlorine, simply because chlorine often comes with its distinct odor and taste.
Inexpensive or even free test kits are available that test for chlorine as well as chloramine.
An alternative method is also testing your tap water for ammonia. If there is ammonia in the water chloramine is almost certainly present. Then you can choose the proper product to treat your tap water.
Another option is to bypass all testing and simply treat the tap water with a product that neutralizes both chlorine and ammonia so you cover all the bases.
So, how does one protect oneself from Chloramines?
How to remove chloramine and chlorine from water
Like any other water contaminant, Chloramines and chlorine must be filtered out of the water we use. Whether that be within our bathrooms or our kitchens, we need specific types of filter mediums to remove chemicals like chlorine and chloramine.
There are different types of water filters. If you want to effectively target and remove these kinds of chemical compounds Reverse osmosis filtration systems are a good starting point.
Also, ensure that the filtration systems come equipped with a sub-micron filtration unit and ion exchange feature because some of these byproducts are considered to be more toxic than the chloramine itself. Other toxins come from farmland runoff, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals that find their way into dams.
These filtration systems not only remove all the contaminants but also retain all the important minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium which are essential for the normal development of a human being.
If you’re not sure where to start, or what type of shower filters may be right for you, check out these shower filters.
5 Best Chlorine and Chloramine Shower Filters: (Comparison Guide)
Thus, it is not recommended that you directly consume the water that you get in the taps at home. The water filter systems will ensure you have fresher, better-quality water in your home.
You can also chemically treat your water using sodium thiosulfate. Most water treatment products contain this chemical. In other words, if your water contains only chlorine, all you need to purchase is an inexpensive water treatment product to make your tap water safe for your fish.
The other treatment method is based on the fact that chlorine dissipates quite rapidly into the atmosphere when the water is exposed to air. You can do this by leaving it in open buckets or by filling the tank and letting the filter run at least one day before adding the fish.
It worked quite well because at the time chloramines weren’t used in public water treatment.
Allowing chlorinated water to aerate (with an airstone attached to an aquarium air pump) causes the chlorine gas to dissipate even more quickly.