Erin Brokovich tells us why we DON’T want chloramines in our drinking water

Erin Brokovich tells us why we DON’T want chloramines in our drinking water

Ian: I’m reading Erin’s amazing book right now and if you like what you read, there’s much more of it on the link after this article. Buy it in hardback or Kindle – or Audible and support this amazing woman.

”Chloramines are what I like to call the godfather of where we’ve gone wrong with our water.

Municipal water districts are adding ammonia to chlorinated water—a process called chloramination—to help meet standards set by the EPA to lower levels of disinfection byproducts, which many in the industry call “unintended consequences.”

Several different types of chloramines exist, including monochloramine, dichloramine, trichloramine, and organic chloramines.

Typically, monochloramine is used most commonly to treat drinking water, so for the purposes of this book I will use the term chloramines to refer this mixture.

To truly understand the problem with chloramines, you need a brief history of water treatment. Drinking water comes from many natural water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and streams, and it generally contains organic matter—leaves, dirt, fish excrement, and so on.

Adding chlorine to water, called chlorination, is one of the primary water treatment methods we’ve used for more than a hundred years, because it’s highly effective at killing most potentially harmful organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

It’s done a good job of preventing disease. In fact, before chlorination, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea outbreaks were common in cities across the world.

Treating the water helped reduce these health problems, but with the advances came potential side effects.

Disinfection Byproducts
In 1974, scientists discovered that chlorine (the disinfectant) itself could react with naturally occurring materials in the water to create what are called disinfection byproducts (DBPs). These are substances that form when the disinfectant reacts with natural compounds in the water. Many of these DBPs have been shown to cause cancer, including trihalomethanes (THMs), which are a group of chemical compounds.

Today, we have more than a thousand US cities with unsafe levels of total THMs (TTHMs) in their water. TTHMs is when four distinct chemicals, chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform, are present.

Any imbalance of THMs means the system is out of balance.
These compounds occur when organic matter in the water reacts with chlorine, so essentially the system is not being chlorinated properly, meaning you have too much or not enough. But many cities don’t get to the root of the problem by finding the source of the organic matter. When you know what’s in the water, you can treat it more effectively instead of creating a chemical cocktail mix.

In the last forty years, we have discovered more than six hundred other DBPs in chlorinated tap water, including haloacetic acids (HAAs).

As you can imagine, the water has only become more polluted (with both organics and inorganics), creating more treatment headaches and violations.

..But from the get-go, utility companies have been concerned that the regulations were too expensive. Then along came chloramines.

This alternative disinfectant method is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia.
Water treatment facilities have been switching at alarming rates from chlorine to chloramines, largely to help public water systems meet federal disinfection byproduct requirements.

I would say it’s a convenient fix, but not necessarily a safe or effective one.
Chloramine treatment is the cheapest way of meeting EPA regulations, but it’s one of the most dangerous ways as well. For starters, chlorine evaporates into the air relatively quickly, but chloramine is more stable and will last longer in the water system.

The goal is to provide increased protection from bacterial and viral contamination, and certainly chloramine does that. But it is also a known carcinogen and causes more rapid deterioration of the municipal infrastructure and degradation of water system valves and fittings.

In systems that still use lead pipes or lead components (which means millions of homes and buildings), the chloramine causes lead and other metals to leach out of faucets and showerheads and into our drinking water. Studies indicate the formation of toxic byproducts in drinking water may be higher when utilities use chloramines. These studies also show that chloramine causes more dangerous byproducts than other treatment alternatives, such as ozone or chlorine dioxide.

One of the most famous cases of chloramines gone wrong was when Washington, D.C., switched to using chloramines in 2000, which led to major corrosion issues in the city’s aging lead pipes. By 2001, lead levels were detected to be at least eighty times higher than the accepted safe limits. A congressional investigation and lawsuit followed.

Chlorine Burnouts
In addition, many systems include chlorine ‘burnouts’ in combination with chloramines to meet their standards.

A burnout happens when the water treatment process changes from chloramines to free chlorine, which is a stronger, faster-acting disinfectant. They do this to clean the water pipes and essentially flush the entire system, so that they can test the water before a burnout and then test again after. They never test the water during a burnout, and they don’t have to, as most plants are only required to report quarterly.

Some burnouts can last up to ninety days.

The regular use of chloramines doesn’t remove all the harmful organics and dirt from the water supply, so the system gets “flushed” with chlorine, forming thousands of chemical combinations that could cause cancer and other health issues.

..Many municipalities that use chloramines report failure of rubber-made valves, gaskets, and fittings, which are key components in any water treatment system. Yes, it might be a cheap fix, but you get what you pay for.

Smells Like Chlorine
The other interesting observation about chloramines is that people contact me saying their water smells like chlorine.

Many times, it’s happening because of these chlorine burnouts where the water utility is trying to meet its standards. It’s a dirty practice that cheats the system. The levels of chlorine used in a burnout produce chloroform, which if inhaled in a hot shower or through medical devices (humidifiers, CPAPs, or nebulizers) can cause chemically induced asthma and pneumonia.

It’s important to know that chlorine in clean drinking water doesn’t smell.

When you smell what you think is chlorine in water, it’s due to exceedingly high levels of toxic chemical compounds reacting with the chlorine.

The utility has other options to clean the dirt out of your drinking water, but they won’t use them without pressure from you, the consumers. In another case in Harris County, Texas, one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the country, which includes Houston and its surrounding areas with a population of more than 4 million people, residents started writing to me in 2014 because their tap water had a strong chlorine smell, along with sediment and sludge showing up in it. The water utility responded with the following statement:

”We are aware of the residents’ concerns. The water has always been safe for human consumption and continues to meet the TCEQ requirements. We have been performing routine maintenance on the system which is required periodically when delivering surface water in large systems. The residents were notified of the routine maintenance through a message on their water bill and by signs posted throughout the district. As part of the process, we have switched disinfectants and have increased our flushing.”

The “flushing” they are referring to is a chlorine burnout. The levels of chlorine used in a burnout produce chloroform, which is primarily what you smell. ..When this substance is inhaled in a hot shower or through medical devices (humidifiers, CPAPs, or nebulizers), it can cause chemically induced asthma and pneumonia.

A better solution to clean the dirt out of the drinking water and stop adding ammonia (chloramines) to mask the reactions that lead to the biofouling requiring the burnouts.

To put it simply, chloramine has absolutely no place in our drinking water.

Here are a few more reasons why:

Chloramine is an ineffective disinfectant. According to Hach, a global company in water quality testing, chloramine is twenty-five times less effective than chlorine in disinfection. When dosing and mixing are not precise, utilities effectively expose everyone in the system to raw water. In fact, chloramine is so ineffective that utilities that use it are required to annually revert back to chlorine only to clean out the bacteria that has become accustomed to ammonia.

* Ammonia is a food source for bacteria, so when the chloramine breaks down, the ammonia feeds the bacteria it is supposed to stop.

* A byproduct of this compound is nitrification. Nitrogen is released into the water, which causes more growth of bacteria.
Nitrates can reduce haemoglobin in a newborn baby’s blood, resulting in blue baby syndrome, a fatal condition.

* Genetic damage occurs as a result of exposure to chloramines, according to a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Further, chloramine is five times more damaging to patients with respiratory illnesses in hospitals where chloramine was routinely used to disinfect.

* Chloramine is very corrosive, particularly with lead and copper. In Washington, D.C., chloramines were the cause of lead leaching into the water and causing learning disabilities in children under five years old. A related lawsuit was settled for $250 million.

* The purpose of chloramine is to trick the system (and save some money) so the utility can meet current regulatory standards. It reduces the amount of DBPs by preventing the chlorine from reacting with organics.

* It also generates NDMA, or nitrosamines, a disinfection byproduct 10,000 times more carcinogenic than anything it purports to displace.

As I say to a lot of communities concerned about chloramines, you have choices.

Get the facts and get into conversation with your water officials. We need to stop cutting corners when our health and safety are at stake. National Regulations The EPA does not by law tell water treatment professionals how to comply with Stage 1 and Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rules (DBPRs). It has never suggested, directed, or required the use of chloramines as either a primary or secondary disinfectant, and they do not tell water treatment professionals what method they should use.

The maximum residual disinfectant level (MRDL) for chloramines is set at 4 parts per million, which means that this is the highest level of a disinfectant allowed in drinking water without causing the possibility of adverse health problems. This enforceable regulation means that if tap water exceeds these limits, the water utility must notify citizens of violations.

Health Concerns

Chloramines are known to be toxic to kidney dialysis patients and harmful to fish.
While I don’t have scientific research to show other health issues associated with chloramines, I have thousands of people who have reported health problems to me when their water system switched to using it. These symptoms include severe skin rashes, dry and scaling skin, skin outbreaks “like hives,” swollen ears, extreme fatigue, hacking coughs, nasal congestion, itchy, burning, and swollen eyes, stomachaches, and yeast infections.

We also have research on trihalomethanes, which are very dangerous to pregnant women. Studies have demonstrated that women exposed to drinking water with high levels of TTHMs have a greater risk for miscarriages in the first trimester and if exposed in their second trimester, are more likely to have babies with a low birth weight.

Ian: What a great summary of the ongoing problems of chloramines! And I wonder how many people are not aware that:
a) Their water filter doesn’t remove chloramines and neither does their shower and..
b) their local water supply DOES use chloramines!

Want to know more about what you can do now?
ere’s a list of Alkaway websites around the world.

Start reading Erin’s book for free: