Know Your H2O: Chlorine in Drinking Water
Chlorine protects you in the swimming pool, but has no place in your drinking water!
Image via Pavel Ryben (Flickr)
Know Your H2O: Chlorine in Drinking Water
It’s the first hot day of summer, and you’ve worked out all winter to sport that new swimsuit. You dive into the pool, the water cool and refreshing, and, of course, chlorinated. It’s natural to have chlorinated water in a swimming pool. Pools are breeding grounds for bacterium and algae. What’s not expected is grabbing a glass and tasting chlorine in drinking water you just dispensed from your tap; not only repugnant to the taste buds, but not so healthy either. This begs to ask an important question: Why is there chlorine in water pumped into our homes?
As with most environmental issues, there are two sides to the discussion of the chlorinated water running from our taps. Those supporting the use of chlorine in water say that the chemical is an effective and inexpensive way to control microbes from polluting public water supplies. Chlorine disinfects the water and keeps it safe for public use and consumption. There are three forms of chlorine used to disinfect public water supplies, each with its own Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number. They are: Chloramine, Chlorine, and Chlorine Dioxide, or CI2, CL2, and CIO2, respectively.
Chlorinated water supporters do have a leg to stand on, as much as I hate to admit it. In some cases, particularly in third-world countries, water supplies are dangerously polluted with deadly microbes. This water must be disinfected to prevent waterborne illnesses, such as bacterial, protozoal, viral, or parasitic infection and/or death. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates 1.8 million die annually from a waterborne illness.
But, we don’t live in a third-world country, so do we really need to chlorinate our drinking water? Well, we don’t suffer from the waterborne illnesses people who consume polluted water suffer from, so, arguably, the chlorine in water we drink is protecting us from dangerous infection, illness, and possible death. This is a fact that nobody, even those of us against chlorine in drinking water, can deny. But what price are we paying for using chlorine in drinking water to disinfect it? In some cases, a big one.
The EPA reports some frightening side effects to consuming chlorine water long term. In fact, the EPA breaks down these side effects by specific chemical. Those with long-term exposure to Chloramine might suffer from anemia and eye, nose, and stomach irritation. Chlorine causes the same side effects, and in most cases, both chemicals are used in our chlorine water. Chlorine dioxide is a bit scarier. In addition to the anemia and overall irritation, should a pregnant woman consume excess chlorine dioxide, her fetus might suffer from nervous system disorders, as can infants and small children.
In addition to these side effects, the byproducts of the chlorination process have been linked to cancer and are known to compromise the reproductive system. Scientific study also suggests that developmental health issues result from adding chlorine in drinking water supplies. Both the chlorine additives, and the resulting byproducts from the disinfection process, certainly appear to pose serious health risks. When you consider this, you can see why this subject is so hotly debated.
We need a safe and clean drinking water supply, and our municipalities seem to feel that adding dangerous chemicals to it – albeit in small concentrations to “avoid health risks” – is the proper way to provide the wet stuff our bodies cannot live without. As an environmentalist who has spent her whole life around water, I have to disagree. The chemicals are dangerous, no matter the quantity, and they have no place in our drinking water; nor really in any part of our water supply. Of course, I do not want deadly microbes in my drinking water, but I also don’t want to drink chlorine. I wouldn’t drink a bottle of bleach, and I’m quite certain that you wouldn’t either.
Despite evidence pointing to the dangers of chlorine water sanitation, the EPA insists that as long as levels are below its maximum residual quantity, we should go ahead and knock back as much of that chlorinated water as we want to. Uh-uh! I say water was, at one time, pure, and it should remain pure, and despite which side of the fence you might fall on in this debate, you must admit that you cannot be too careful when putting anything into your body. So, filter, filter, filter to get rid of that chlorine!
Yes, we do need to protect our water supply from the dangerous microbes that poison so many of the world’s water in other countries, but we do not need to create different health problems in the process. Life is precious and a child’s life even more so because of the promise each child’s future holds. Protect yourself and your family by filtering out the chlorine in water you use to drink and cook with. Your insides don’t need bleaching like your socks and skivvies do!
- Disinfectants in Drinking Water — Chloramine, Carbon Dioxide, and Chlorine
- World Health Organization: Chlorine in Drinking Water (PDF File)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Safe Water System
- Vermont Department of Health: Drinking Water Disinfection
- National Institutes of Health: Drinking Water Chlorination By-Products and Cancer
- Mountain Empire Community College: Disinfectant Byproducts (THM) in Drinking Water
- Duke University: Inorganic Elements in Tap Water
- University of Nebraska at Lincoln: Drinking Water Contaminants
Written By: Lynn Taylor