Chloramines are newer chemicals that water utility company's are increasingly using instead of chlorine to disinfect drinking water, but is it safer. These chemicals kill pathogens in the water such as bacteria and viruses that could potentially pose a threat to human health. Chloramines typically form when ammonia and chlorine are used in combination during the water treatment process in an effort to ensure long-lasting disinfection of water as it is pumped through the water network to our homes.
Monochloramine is typically used during drinking water disinfection; while other forms, including dichloramine and organic chloramines -- and in rare circumstances trichloramine -- are formed during the treatment process, their levels are much lower than that of monochloramine.
Because chlorine is quick acting, but not long-lasting it is usually used as the primary method of disinfection. Chlorine is often added at several stages of the treatment process (i.e. it is also used as a secondary disinfectant) as the initial treatment becomes less effective over time. Because chlorine is prone to reacting with naturally occurring organic matter that may be present in the water, to form disinfection byproducts that could potentially pose a risk to human health, some water utilities that were previously using chlorine as their secondary method of disinfection have switched to chloramines, a longer-lasting alternative, as a secondary disinfectant in order to comply with regulations regarding disinfection byproducts.
However, while monochloramine is more stable and consequently more long-lasting compared to chlorine, it can also react with naturally occurring organic matter that may be present in drinking water to form byproducts that could potentially harm humans, although the number of potentially harmful regulated disinfection products that it produces is less than that produced by chlorine.
Chloramine treatment of drinking water is widespread; more than 20% of Americans drink water that has been disinfected with chloramines. However, the use of chloramines in water treatment is tightly regulated in order to meet the safety standard of 4 parts per million (ppm) for drinking water as set by the EPA.
What are the Health Risks Associated with Disinfection Byproducts?
Research has indicated that some water disinfection byproducts are potentially harmful to human health. Studies have shown that certain byproducts formed during water disinfection are associated with increased incidence of cancer -- notably bladder cancer. Studies have also shown a link between water disinfection byproducts and anemia, as well as a host of other health issues, including problems of the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and reproductive system.
According to the EPA, compared to drinking water treated with chlorine, drinking water that has been treated with monochloramine usually has lower concentrations of regulated disinfection byproducts, including regulated disinfection byproducts associated with bladder cancer. However, they also point out that drinking water that has been treated with monochloramine may contain higher concentrations of unregulated disinfection byproducts than water treated with chlorine.
Regardless of which disinfectant is used to treat drinking water, disinfection byproducts will occur as a result of the treatment process; however the types and concentrations will vary between utilities, and may also fluctuate on a daily basis for each utility.
Monochloramine also has the ability to change the chemistry of water, which may in turn lead to an increase in other harmful contaminants such as lead, and may affect biofilm activity and the levels of nitrites and nitrates.
It is possible to remove these potentially harmful contaminants from your drinking water. Berkey water filters have been shown to remove chloramines to greater than 99.9%, assuring you of a safe healthy supply of drinking water that is free of these and other contaminants.