Better Know A Drinking Water Impurity: What Is Chloramine?

by admin on August 11, 2014


Water Processing PlantEarlier this year, Los Angeles began disinfecting its drinking water with chloramine rather than the chlorine it had used for decades.  You can read more about it by visiting Southern California Public Radio 89.3 KPCC or our coverage in a recent Drinking Water News post.

With such a large municipality making a switch in the chemical used to make its water drinkable, you may be lulled into thinking that chloramine disinfection is a newer tactic.  In reality, chloramine has been used in many municipalities as far back as 1917 according to information provided by Illinois American Water.

Regardless, since the switch in LA, our customer service team has received a steady stream of questions regarding the use of chloramine in water.  Most specifically, our customers want to know whether chloramine disinfection is safe.

As a resource for both our new and future customers alike, here is what you need to know about chloramine:

What Is Chloramine?
Chloramine is produced at a municipal water treatment plant by combining chlorine with ammonia.   There are three inorganic chloramines in water: monochloramine, dichloramine and trichloramine. Monochloramine is stable in drinking water with a pH level of between 7 and 9. If chlorine concentration increases and pH is reduced, problematic dichloramine and trichloramine will form.  Both dichloramine and trichloramine are less effective at disinfection as monochloramine.

For this reason, utilities strive to ensure that only monochloramine is used for disinfection and only at levels defined as safe by the EPA.

Why Chloramine Instead Of Chlorine?
Chloramines remain active in water longer than chlorine.  In other words, if your drinking water must travel a long distance before finally being served by your tap, tub or fridge, chlorine can see its effectiveness as a disinfectant decrease more significantly than chloramine.

Chloramine is also reported to produce fewer Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) than chlorine, including total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) such as chloroform, haloacetic acids (HAA5), chlorite, bromate and more.  These DBPs are a natural result of disinfectants reacting with organic matter.  In other words, while chloramine is at work inactivatng bacteria and viruses, and preventing infectious diseases like typhoid fever, hepatitis, and cholera, it is also helping to ensure you are at far less of a risk for exposure to these DBPs.

Pentek ChlorPlus-20BB Carbon Block Chloramine FilterIs Chloramine In My Drinking Water?
Dependent on where you live, it’s very possible.  If your municipality has recently made a switch to chloramine, it is required to provide you with an alert, and you’ll likely see this change covered in the local media, as well.  If your municipality has been using chloramine for years, this is information you will be able to find it by either reading your local water quality report (usually published annually,) visiting your water company’s website or calling your water company directly.

If chloramine is being used to disinfect your drinking water, its levels must be kept below the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 4 parts per million (ppm.)  Information on exact levels will be available from your local water company.

Is Chloramine Dangerous To My Health, The Health Of My Family Or The Health of My Pets?
If kept below the MCL, the answer to this question is typically no – chloramine does not pose a significant risk to your health.  If anything, the use of disinfectants such as chloramine and chlorine have done a great deal of good for public health, as drinking water disinfection helps to protect all of us against sickness and death from waterborne contamination.

That said, there are some at risk groups that I’ll discuss below that do need to be careful regarding exposure to drinking water that has been disinfected via chlorine or chloramine.  Fish and other aquatic pets also can be harmed by exposure to these disinfectants.  But for most healthy family members, two-legged and four-legged, chloramine is no real cause for concern.

Why Do I Want Chloramine Out Of My Drinking Water?
Taste and odor.  Chloramine can result in the same unpleasant taste and odor as chlorine (think: swimming pool.)  While purely aesthetic (provided chloramine is kept below the MCL defined as safe,) many do not want to drink, serve, use or bathe in water that reminds them of a chlorinated swimming pool.

How Do I Filter Chloramine Out Of My Water?
Because of its unique makeup, chloramine is more difficult to filter than chlorine as most standard charcoal filters simply do not have the surface area needed to adsorb (or chemically capture) all unpleasant traits of this over-achieving disinfectant.

Fortunately, if chloramine is causing taste or odor issues in your drinking water, we do offer water filters and filtration products specifically designed to reduce this impurity at our online store, here.  A Pentek filter, designed to reduce chloramine, is pictured above.  Note that these water filters and filtration products typically do run a bit higher in cost, so you are highly encouraged to research information provided by your local water company, prior to investing.

Good Shower Filter Reduces ChloramineWho Needs To Be Careful Of Chloramine Exposure?
Patients undergoing kidney dialysis must take care to limit exposure to chemical disinfectants like chloramine, or chlorine, for that matter.  Cases of chloramine-induced hemolytic anemia in patients have been reported when their dialysis water was not appropriately treated. Persons with liver or kidney disease and those with hereditary urea cycle disorders may be at increased risk for ammonia toxicity from the consumption of chloraminated water.  Fortunately, hospitals and kidney dialysis centers must be alerted when chloramine is used for water supply disinfection.

Citizen advocacy groups have also raised some legitimate concerns that chloraminated water vapor from showers, baths and hot tubs contain volatile chemicals that can cause irritation to the respiratory tract if inhaled. Prolonged chloramine exposure may potentially damage mucous membranes, making the lungs more susceptible to allergens and infections. Some individuals have reported cases of skin reactions ranging in severity from rashes, itching, chapping, cracking, flaking to blistering skin conditions. Chloramine has been further known to aggravate skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.  Again, fortunately, our online store offers shower filters – including this affordable model from Crystal Quest – that help to significantly reduce chloramine.

Finally, chloramines – like chlorine – are toxic to fish and amphibians at levels used for human drinking water.  An aquarium store in  your local area will have more information regarding how best to protect your water-based pets from this impurity.

If you have any additional questions about the use of chloramine in your drinking water, I encourage you to call our customer service team at 1-888-801-PURE (7873.)  I also encourage you to leave any personal stories or information you may have about chloramine via a comment below.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Williams August 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Thanks, I’ve recently been looking for info on this topic for ages and yours is the best I have came upon til now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you certain concerning the supply?

Reply

Mike Yanke August 11, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Williams -

Thank you for the question.

The safe levels concerning the use of chloramine, as cited in the post above, come via the EPA. As such, we are comfortable referring to these levels as safe, by definition.

Thanks for connecting!
Mike

Reply

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