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There is growing concern over reactions to chlorine, known as chlorine disinfection byproducts (DBPs), developing in municipal water. These DBPs are linked to various health risks, including cancers, and reproductive and developmental problems.

There is growing concern over reactions to chlorine, known as chlorine disinfection byproducts (DBPs), developing in municipal water. These DBPs are linked to various health risks, including cancers, and reproductive and developmental problems.

The most common reaction byproduct associated with chlorine is trihalomethane (THM), which has been linked to early miscarriage and birth defects. Many communities are now seeking alternative ways of treating their water.

Chloramine vs. Chlorine

Chloramine is an alternative disinfecting agent used in municipal water-treatment plants that tends to limit the production of DBPs. It is a combination of ammonia and chlorine. Chloramine is considered less likely to produce THM and less likely to be linked, as chlorine in drinking water has, to bladder and colon cancers.

It is used in some water-treatment centres because it remains longer in the water distribution system than chlorine. However, chloramine also requires a longer contact time to kill bacteria than chlorine, so it has been recommended as a secondary disinfection process. The effectiveness of chloramine can vary according to the pH and temperature of the water. A pH above 7.6 and temperature below 20 C will cause chloramine to be less effective in disinfecting the water.

There have been limited studies showing an increase in deaths from pneumonia and influenza in communities using chloramine in drinking water. Both chloramine and chlorine can react to organic nitrogen compounds in the water, resulting in toxic byproducts, although chloramine does not appear to react as strongly.

(Chloramines, on the other hand, are substances produced by a reaction to chlorine in waste water and swimming pools. Studies of chloramines have been linked to respiratory-tract damage and eye irritation in swimming pools. Chloramines are also extremely toxic to fish.)

Difficult to Filter

A further problem with chloramine is related to its ammonia component, which, unlike chlorine, will not dissipate rapidly in open air, making it much harder to remove. Regular carbon filtration methods are ineffective on the ammonia component of chloramines; even a reverse osmosis filtration system will not remove it. Ammonia needs a longer contact time with a more specialized filter to remove it. There are specialized filters on the market that effectively remove the ammonia component of chloramine from drinking water. These filters can be a little more costly but the unhealthy alternative is leaving the ammonia in your drinking water.

Is it in Your Water?

Many people are unaware that their communities might be using chloramine in the water-treatment process. Unfortunately, even some of the water-purification companies in these communities are unaware that ammonia is a problem.

Call your local municipality to find out whether the community you live in uses chloramine to disinfect its water. Victoria and Abbotsford in BC, Edmonton and some smaller cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Ottawa and some of its surrounding communities are known to use chloramine.

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