DOES YOUR WATER CONTAIN CHLORAMINE?

Posted on June 4, 2013 - 23 Comments

AND YOU THOUGHT CHLORINE WAS BAD.

 

As someone who was under the assumption that my drinking water was chlorinated, and that I could easily clean out the chlorine with carbon-based filters, I was shocked to find out that the water in the city where I live (Victoria, B.C.) has been using a different substance for many years now. That substance may be soon coming to a town near you, as more city water systems switch over from chlorine treatment to using chloramine.

 

According to the CRD, my water is disinfected “using ultraviolet light followed by the addition of chlorine and then ammonia. In the water, these latter two substances combine to produce chloramines. Chloramines have the advantage of being very long lasting (i.e. a residual amount of chlorine provides continuing disinfection even out to the extremities of the distribution system), lower production of disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids and lower perception of chlorinous tastes and odour.” (There are a variety of compounds produced known as chloramines, but currently they are commonly referred to by the generic singular term chloramine.)

 

WHAT IS CHLORAMINE?

Chloramine is the chemical that occurs when ammonia is reacted with chlorine (or “bleach”). Ammonia is introduced to water already treated with chlorine in city water systems. Chloramine is a weaker germicide than chlorine but it is more stable, which is why city water systems are turning to using it more often these days.

 

WHY IS IT REPLACING CHLORINE?

According to the U.S. EPA, because chloramine is more stable and does not dissipate as quickly as chlorine, chloramine provides better protection against bacterial re-growth, especially in water systems with large storage tanks and/or dead-end water mains.

 

The EPA maintains that, like chlorine, chloramine effectively controls biofilm, a bacterial growth that coats and corrodes pipes, and that can build up dangerous concentrations of coliform bacteria. But, whereas chlorine can dissipate by the time it reaches the end of a long water system, the chloramine still remains active and protective.

 

The EPA also considers chloramine to be safer than chlorine as a disinfectant because it produces less trihalomethanes (THM), a carcinogenic byproduct of water purification, than chlorine does. Chloramine also has a lower tendency than chlorine to convert organic materials in the water into carcinogenic chlorocarbons, such as chloroform and carbon tetrachloride.

 

IS CHLORAMINE TOXIC?

Notice that the label on a bottle of bleach or ammonia will have a prominent warning not to mix these two chemicals together. The result of this combination is a dangerous chemical called monochloramine that is a toxic gas, very irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. Chloramine may have a tendency to produce less carcinogens than chlorine but, like chlorine, chloramine is still toxic.

 

The EPA (and Canadian water regulators) believes that neither compound poses health risk for humans, at the levels used for disinfecting drinking water. But it is acknowledged that, even at those low levels, both compounds can harm fish and amphibians, and they are particularly concerned about preventing spills of these substances from entering fish habitats.

 

Chloramine, like chlorine, is toxic to fish and cannot be used in aquarium water. Those who have an aquarium have to treat water with a dechlorinator to remove either chlorine or chloramine, or the water will kill their fish. Do we really want to drink a substance known to be deadly to one species of life?

 

In hydroponic applications chloramine has been shown to impede the growth and production of plants. When watering with chlorinated water the majority of the chlorine will evaporate after 8 or so hours, but chloramine takes days to evaporate, meanwhile working to kill off good bacteria found in the soil, and necessary for healthy plant growth.

 

One disadvantage that chloramine has, versus chlorine, is that it can increase heavy metal exposure, due to the ammonia present in the compound causing corrosion of copper and lead pipes. In areas with older housing and public water systems that still use copper or lead piping, this exposure can result in dangerous levels of lead and/or copper in the bloodstream of those who drink the water.

 

When water contains high amounts of ammonia, nitrate levels will rise. Nitrates, in turn, cause the oxygen level in the blood to drop, and are known carcinogens. Both chlorine and chloramine have to be removed by special carbon filtration before water can be used for dialysis, because both compounds will destroy red blood cells. This contamination of water may be why some people have unexplained chronic anemia (a lack of red blood cells usually attributed to iron deficiency).

 

CHLORAMINE AND RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS

Chloramine, like chlorine, is worse when it is inhaled in gaseous form. It may cause respiratory problems, such as asthma, especially in swimmers, if it is used to disinfect swimming pools. Respiratory problems due to chloramine exposure are common among competitive swimmers, as is eye and skin irritation. Even if a swimming pool is not treated with chloramine, it is formed by the reaction of free chlorine with organic substances found occurring in the water, and so will be produced anyways.

 

The risk of respiratory problems also exists when the gaseous chlorine or chloramine is inhaled during a hot shower. Those who promote the use of chlorine and chloramine maintain that people can safely drink treated water because their digestive process neutralizes those substances before they can enter the bloodstream. But, just like fish that take chloramine directly into their bloodstream through their gills, the gaseous form enters our bloodstream through the lungs without a chance to be broken down (as much as is possible) by the digestive system.

 

Currently there are shower filters on the market that use vitamin C to remove the chloramine from shower water. (Link to product)

As well, of course, it is a good idea to keep the fan on (or door open, if there is no fan) in order to reduce exposure to vaporized chlorine or chloramine.

 

CHLORAMINE REMOVAL FROM WATER

Chlorine is bad enough as a water treatment, being a cumulative carcinogen, linked to heart disease, and creating by-products that contribute to cancer and birth defects. But chlorine at least will dissipate fairly fast, when water is boiled or left exposed to air (most sources suggest it takes 24hrs for total dispersal) while chloramine will not.

 

Chloramine is less reactive than chlorine, including less reactive to air. The supposed benefits of chloramine for disinfecting water requires a longer reaction time, but as a result it can take days (some say weeks) to break down into non-toxic components. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission offers some suggestions for those who wish to remove chloramine from their water (not that they believe that this is necessary for health purposes).

 

“If desired, chloramine and ammonia can be completely removed from the water by boiling; however, it will take 20 minutes of gentle boil to do that. Just a short boil of water (to prepare coffee, soup or tea) removed about 30% of chloramine. Both chlorine and chloramine can be removed for drinking water purposes by an activated carbon filter point of use device that can be installed on a kitchen faucet.”

 

FILTERS FOR CHLORAMINE REMOVAL

Such filters must be designed specifically for chloramine removal, and the form believed to be most effective is known as Catalytic Activated Carbon. Whole house systems are available but require large amounts of this substance. (Product link)

 

As well, the longer the water is in contact with the filter, the more contaminants are removed. One company suggests that “At least two carbon beds in series are required for a total of 10 minutes empty bed contact time at the maximum flow rate to remove chloramines.” This means that even with a table top filter, the longer it takes for the water to run through, the more chloramine you are likely to remove.

 

One company that offers such filters is “Filters Fast” which carries several types of chlorine and chloramine water filters. (Product link)

 

Unlike chlorine, chloramine is not removed by reverse osmosis filtration, and it is debated as to whether or not distillation even works on chloramine. According to one water expert “Distillation or evaporation does not remove chloramines effectively. During distillation the chloramines would be volatilized and carried over to the product water (distillate).”

 

For more information on filtration technologies I suggest visiting this website: http://www.cleanairpurewater.com/pure_water.html

 

VITAMIN C FOR CHLORAMINE REMOVAL

According to many experts, including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, both chlorine and chloramine can be removed from bathing water by dissolving Vitamin C in the bath water (1000 mg Vitamin C will neutralize both chlorine and chloramine in an average tub full of water). Ascorbic acid as powder is most commonly used, and a 1gr (1,000mg) tablet can be crushed, if powder is not available. Vitamin C degrades relatively quickly which only make it usable for short-term applications. Based on this principle SFPUC also suggests that adding fruit to a water pitcher (e.g., slicing peeled orange into a 1-gal water pitcher) will neutralize chloramine within 30 minutes.   (Article)

 

CONCLUSION

If you want to find out what is being used to treat your water contact your local water officials (if you can’t find them in the phone book, call city hall).

 

Most experts believe that pitcher-style or faucet-mounted activated-charcoal water filters will not remove chloramine. Some suggest that the chlorine component will be removed, but we will be left with the ammonia. Because other environmental contaminants can raise levels of ammonia in our blood, and because it is a modern health issue, a future blog will be about natural ways to remove excess ammonia from our bodies.

 

Ultimately the simplest answer for those unable to upgrade to chloramine removal technologies, would be to simply add vitamin C to carbon-filtered water. Since only 1000 mg is required for a tub full of water, putting as little as 100 mg into each new pitcher of filtered water should be somewhat protective.

  1. I have constant skin rashes and trying to find out if my water here is treated with chloramine. I plan to call the water dept. for my county tomorrow and take some time to study http://www.chloramine.org. I work from home due to the fact that I have an online Etsy shop. Try to avoid drinking water out.

    Thanks for all the info.!

  2. CHLORAMINE is found on normal water. It is disinfectant that is used to treat drinking water. The particular type of chloramine used in drinking water disinfection is called monochloramine.

    • Technically you are correct, though the terms are often used interchangeably. I would disagree that it is “found in normal water” though, since appreciable amounts of chlorine are not found in natural water and, according to Wikipedia: “In swimming pools, chloramines are formed by the reaction of free chlorine with organic substances, such as urine and sweat.”

  3. This is so confusing. Since my community switched to chloramines in 2013, I have gotten asthma, hives and yesterday my face and throat swelled up and provoked an emergency room visit. Is there NO solution?

    I’m heading to the store for shower and faucet filters. What should I buy?

  4. Ok,so if Vitamin C breaks chloramine into chlorine and ammonia, then using two sequential filters – a Vitamin C filter first and an activated carbon filter after the Vitamin C filter – should reduce chroramine/chlorine in the output water. If such filter is not yet available, what prevents the solutions to be developed?

    • The only problem is that most sources maintain that carbon will not remove ammonia; though there may be newer forms of carbon filters that can do so, they are not easy to find in a cursory search of the internet.

  5. I just went to a health fair yesterday. I was speaking with a dietician about the detrimental health effects of being exposed to chloraminated water and it’s disinfected by-products (many of which are unregulated).

    The dietician shared with me that a woman that she had just counseled had skin rashes of unknown cause that started some 2 years ago. I told her that in June 2012 (two years ago), New Jersey American Water started treating our water with Chloramines. I shared with the dietician a very informative website, http://www.chloramine.org (it has photoes of chloraminated induced skin rashes).

    The dietician eventually shared with me that she, too, was suffering from skin rashes. I gave her the name of a local New Jersey dermatologist, Dr. Kenneth Grossman, who has educated himself about chloramines.

    My own primary care doctor has me only using spring water.

  6. I have severe respiratory problems, I can’t be in the room a dishwasher is running in, or use water at all in town. I don’t know how I’m going to get by. I get such severe asthma attacks and have fluid in the lungs. I’m 32. I have severe nasal polyps from the chloramines and when I’m on well water the polyps are completely gone… even in serious mold…
    I get severe dripping swelling and massive polyps if I take a shower. I have leaky gut syndrome from it.
    Not harmful my ass… I am pretty sure it’s the main cause of most chronic health problems we have here.

    The first thing they do is wash a new kid in it at hospitals too… and ever after. They are poisoned from the day of conception. We’re doomed when we water lawns. we kill nematodes that we need to keep the world functional.
    I’m stuck taking prednisone for 14 years, and twice I lived without chlorinated etc. water and I was fine, perfectly fine… I have an unidentified immune system disease the rest of the time though… can’t live…

    I use vit. C in water for baths and have an r/o unit… but it’s impossible… I’ve read studies that explain how it. c break apart the molecule and dissipate chloramines.
    Shower filters are futile too because they don’t touch the water for long enough and don’t last long at all…

    • And for an update, I now have blisters in my eye and fluid so I haven’t been able to wear my contacts for a year… It gets a lot worse if I get water on my face.
      I want out!!
      well water!!

      My plants are light green and bleached looking now… they used to be deep dark lush green on well water.

    • This is a subject of much debate. Two responses are below:
      “To remove chloramine, an extensive carbon filter (to remove the chlorine part of the chloramine molecule) followed by a reverse osmosis or cation filter (to remove the ammonia) is necessary.” http://www.chloramine.org/chloraminefacts.htm

      “The often-used blanket statement that “reverse osmosis does not remove chloramines” is technically true but realistically false. While the reverse osmosis membrane itself does not remove chloramines, every respectable RO unit is equipped with two or more high quality carbon filters. Pre-filters, the filters that process the water before the membrane, receive water at a very slow rate of flow and therefore work under excellent conditions for chloramine reduction. The use of the high quality cartridges described by Mr. Bauman actually should provide superb chloramine reduction in an undersink RO unit, yet the “reverse osmosis does not remove chloramines” myth continues to be promoted by sellers of non-RO products.” http://www.purewateroccasional.net/wtichloramine.html

  7. Yes, for people who suffer from high-moderate to sever skin, respiratory and/or digestive symptoms, spring water or water from a public water supply that doesn’t contain chloramine are the only options.

    • In Canada we have no idea what bottled water contains, since the companies selling it are not required to state it…wondering if putting vitamin C in canister filtered water, 12 cups, will remove chloramines for the time it takes, 1-2 days to drink the water?

      • When I originally wrote this blog it was debated as to whether vitamin C would remove the ammonia component of chloramine. Now however most sites believe that it is effective at removing chloramine from the water provided the water is in contact with the vitamin C for 5 to 10 minutes. Which it clearly would be when adding vitamin C to bottled water, but would not work in a shower filter.
        Removing ammonia with filters requires slow filtration (at least 10 minutes) with “catalytic” carbon. According to one water company: “Catalytic carbon is a specifically processed grade of filter carbon that is designed especially for, among other things, exceptional chloramine removal. On our site, the brand name for catalytic carbon is Centaur. You should also consider specially prepared carbon filters from Pentek, which are expertly designed to reduce chloramines.” https://www.purewaterproducts.com/articles/removing-chloramines
        They also maintain that Reverse Osmosis will clean out chloramine due to the slow filtration process.

  8. Chloramine as a disinfectant: “Monochloramine [the species of chloramine formed at the treatment plant to disinfect drinking water] is about 2000 and 100 000 times less effective than free chlorine for the inactivation of E.coli and rotaviruses respectively.” (World Health Organization Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality Vol.2, 1996, Chapter 16)

    Chloramine forms the byproducts, THMs and HAAs at a slower rate but it its own horrendous byproducts that make THMs and HAAs look like vitamins, and none of them are regulated. Some are iodoacetic acids (which mutate DNA) and nitrosamines (known carcinogens).

    Toxicity of chloramine. All over the country, thousands, if not millions, of people are suffering from respiratory, digestive and/or skin symptoms from exposure to chloraminated tap water. Yet neither the EPA nor anyone else has ever tested chloramine for these symptoms when exposed to levels typically used in tap water. However, there is much research showing that people and lab animals exposed to higher doses do get these symptoms. Since there are no studies, the EPA substituted studies for chlorine to determine the maximum amount allowed in tap water. That amount is the same as chlorine: 4 Mg/L.

    About chloramine corroding pipes and causing them to leach lead into tap water. Between 2001 and 2004, lead levels in part of Washington DC were 48,000 parts per billion (ppb). The maximum exposure to lead, according to the EPA, is 15 ppb. Read about the class action lawsuit by parents whose children’s lives were ruined: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/200M-Lawsuit-Accuses-WASA-of-Lead-Contamination-Cover-Up.html Since this article, many families have joined the lawsuit.

    Vitamin C filters DO NOT remove chloramine. They turn SOME of the chloramine back into chlorine and ammonia. There are NO filters that remove enough chloramine to relieve sufferers of their symptoms.

    There are NO filters designed to remove chloramine’s harmful byproducts.

    Boiling does not remove chloramine from water. It only concentrates chloramine as the water boils off and puts dangerous chloramine gases into the air.

    Chloramine cannot be distilled out of water, and if you put a bowl of chloraminated water on the counter it doesn’t take days to come out, it takes WEEKS. The water will probably be gone first.

    • Thank you very much for your input. Certainly if what you say is true, negating much of the material I have written about, all we are left with is buying spring water for drinking purposes.
      Ken Peters

      • Irene could ask a chemist about whether vitamin C “removes” chloramine or whether it turns some of it back into ammonia and chlorine. The chemist who works for the state of Vermont is not clear about what “removing” and “neutralizing”mean. He says at public meetings where chloramine may be going into a community’s public water supply that vitamin C removes chloramine. If I’m there, I raise my hand and ask if it removes chloramine or just turns some of it back into chlorine and ammonia. He gets really pissed off and admits that it turns it back into chlorine and ammonia, but emphasizes that that means that vitamin C removes chloramine. But by now the people in the audience realize they’ve been snookered by the state on another aspect of the nightmare of chloramine. He and I may disagree on whether vitamin turns all or some of the chloramine back into chlorine and ammonia.

        If Irene wants a more scientific explanation, I recommend her contact Denise Johnson-Kule, president of Citizens Concerned About Chloramine, a citizens group founded in 2004 to fight chloramine in their community. Denise has a background in biochemistry and can give a lot more information than I can. Her phone number is listed at http://www.chloramine.org. Denise and I have been in close touch since chloramine went into my public water supply in 2006. There is a fellow in Denise’s public water supply that suffers horrendous symptoms from chloramine exposure in his tap water. He has tried every filter on the planet. During that process he had a vitamin C shower filter, tested and it showed that the vitamin C filter turned only about 25%or 30% (can’t remember which) of the chloramine back into ammonia and chlorine and the rest stayed chloramine. I do know from the 300 chloramine sufferers we documented in my water district, that anecdotally, none of them received relief from vitamin C being added to any chloraminated tap water they exposed themselves to. People with mild to moderate symptoms have experienced lessening of their symptoms to various degrees with the use of carbon filters, but those with severe symptoms don’t see any change- they are forced to use water in a non-chloraminated situation. That could mean they shower in another town where chloramine isn’t used (which is what I do), or use bottled spring water to bathe, cook, brush teeth with, etc. This is also true in any communities where skin, respiratory and digestive symptoms from exposure to chloraminated tap water are being documented.
        Ellen

      • Was the test sample sent to a lab or done on site? In the days or weeks to get to the lab, the Chlorine and ammonia will convert back to chloramine. So, I would have to see the testing procedure to believe it.

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