We folks who live in cities with water distribution systems have got it pretty good. Safe drinking water that is available at our whim, a luxury that is easily taken for granted. Our drinking water is made safe largely because the big “C” word, chlorine. Chlorination is the process of adding chlorine to drinking water to disinfect it and kill germs. It helps kill “bugs” like cryptosporidium. No, that is not an alien planet from Star Trek, it is an illness causing parasitic protozoan cyst. Unless you are a fan of gastrointestinal chaos, you’ll be glad it’s out of your water.
Chlorine does have some downfalls; it naturally dissipates from water over time. Sometimes there is not enough chlorine left to keep water disinfected before it reaches the end of the distribution system. Another issue with chlorine is that as it disinfects water it releases by products, or disinfection by-products. The EPA has stepped up regulations on DBP’s leading to municipalities looking for alternatives to chlorine. Enter chloramine. I know what you are thinking, chloramine, more like boramine. It may not be the most exciting topic, but if you care about what is in your water then you may want to read further.
So what is it you ask? Chloramines are a group of compounds made up of chlorine and ammonia. The particular type used to treat drinking water is called monochloramine. It works in much in the same way as chlorine, disinfecting water making it safe to drink. In a compound form it is far more stable than free chlorine. This helps chloramine continue to disinfect water throughout the distribution system clear to the point of use, i.e. your home. Chloramine has been used in parts of the US since 1929. An EPA survey estimated that in 1998 68 million Americans were using water disinfected with chloramines. That number has grown and is continuing to grow.
One positive attribute of chlorine is that once it does its job, it is very easily removed from water at the point of use. A simple carbon filter and voi la, you have great tasting chlorine free water. If you use an RO system then it is especially important to remove chlorine and chloramines before they reach the membrane. Chloramines being very stable, are far more resilient than chlorine, and require some extra effort to remove. The most effective treatment is catalytic carbon. The reason for its effectiveness is in its name. Catalytic carbon acts as a catalyst causing chemical reactions that break the bond between chlorine and ammonia letting the carbon absorb the chlorine and break down the ammonia. Are you flashing back to 10th grade chemistry? Don’t worry, this isn’t on the test. What you get after is safe treated chlorine/chloramine free water.
As chloramine treatment rises, so does the technology to take it out of water at the point of use. There have been some promising breakthroughs in the development of catalytic carbon leading to far more effective results and longer carbon life. That means less filter replacements and more great tasting water.
Unsure how your water is treated? Look up your local CCR or consumer confidence report. Each community water supplier is required to provide a CCR once a year. It details testing, contaminants, and treatments. If you are looking for point of use treatments you can find more information at www.omnipure.com. Stay safe and stay hydrated.
Chloramines in Drinking Water, EPA, www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/chloramines-drinking-water. Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.
Disinfection with Chloramine, CDC, www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/chloramine-disinfection.html. Accessed 4 Oct. 2018.