Chloramines are disinfectants used to treat our drinking water. Chloramines are formed when ammonia is added to the chlorine in our water. The purpose according to the City of San Diego is to provide longer-lasting water treatment as the water moves through pipes to consumers.
San Diego uses a water treatment process that is similar to other large water utilities around the nation. The process produces safe drinking water by removing potentially harmful organisms and substances both in the water and attached to particles. Raw water from our reservoirs (or outside sources) is disinfected with chlorine to kill disease-causing organisms and to remove disagreeable tastes and odors. Particles in the water have negative electrical charges and repel each other. To remove them, positively charged chemicals, ferric chloride and organic polymer, are mixed with the water to neutralize the negative charges and allow clumps of particles to form. The clumps then settle out or are filtered out of the water. Ammonia is added to the water after filtration to react with chlorine to produce chloramines. Chloramines are used to continue disinfecting the water throughout the distribution pipelines so that it remains safe to drink when it reaches the consumer’s tap. Sodium hydroxide or calcium oxide is added to the water to protect pipes, plumbing fixtures and appliances from corrosion (rust)."
Surface water sources (like water from streams, rivers and lakes) is full of leaves, decaying vegetation, fish and animals, algae, and other forms of plant life. When this matter decays in water it becomes dissolved organic matter. When chlorine is added to water that contains dissolved organic matter, the formation of “disinfection by-products” (DBP’s) occurs. These include “trihalogenated methanes” or trihalomethanes (THM's) and “haloacetic acids” (HAA’s.)
Contrary to what water suppliers have attempted to say about the subject for many years, it is now apparent that these compounds are potent carcinogens. This realization forced the EPA to drastically lower the amount of these dangerous disinfection by-products it will permit in domestic drinking water supplies with a new regulation called the Stage 1 Disinfection Byproduct Rule.
This new regulation requires water producers to limit the running average to THMs to 80 part per billion in the distribution system. The rule was phased in gradually but all water utilities were required to comply with the new regulations by January 2004.
Compliance is a difficult issue. The best way to resolve the problem is also very expensive. It involves installing huge filtration systems that rely on expensive forms of carbon that must be backwashed and replenished regularly. To install this equipment would require an investment in infrastructure that most water utility companies are unwilling or unable to make.
That is why most water suppliers are electing to comply with these new Stage 1 requirements by converting their disinfection method from chlorination to chloramination. While these chemical compounds sound similar, they are very different.
Chlorination is usually accomplished by adding chlorine gas or a liquid chlorine compound similar to common household bleach into the water. While these are effective disinfection agents, the problem is that these forms of chlorine dissipate rapidly from the water supply through the mechanism of evaporation. If you put bleach in a bucket of water and leave it out, 98% of the chlorine will have escaped into the air within a few hours.
Chloramine however is different. It is the result of mixing chlorine with ammonia. Have you ever read the label on a bottle of bleach or ammonia? The directions carry a prominent warning not to mix these two chemicals together. The result is a dangerous chemical called monochloramine that is a form of nerve gas, and besides being toxic, is very irritating to the skin and mucous membranes.
So if monochloramine is so dangerous, why is it added to drinking water? One reason is that it is added in very small amounts. While it is not as effective as chlorination, the chemical DOES NOT dissipate from water. Because there is less chlorine present, chloramines have a lower potential to form carcinogenic by-products – or so we were told.
Unfortunately, it appears that chloramines have their own sets of potential health problems including gastrointestinal irritation, and exacerbation of skin problems, not to mention the possibility of creating other disinfection by-products known as Nitrosodimethylamines (NDMA’s) that may be more carcinogenic than their predecessors.
In addition, a study conducted by the University of Illinois demonstrates that a by-product of the chloramination of drinking water known as iodoacids (EYE-O-doe-acids) may be the most toxic ever found in drinking water. The concern is not only the genetic damage they can cause in mammals (including humans) that drink chloraminated water, but also the fact that these dangerous chemicals are being released back into the environment where fish, wildlife, and the food chain may be adversely affected.
Like chlorine, chloramines are biocides designed to kill pathogenic organisms. At normal pH values, the predominant form of chloramine that is created is called monochloramine. Like Cl2 chloramines are oxidants and kill bacteria by penetrating their cell walls and disrupting their metabolism. Chloramines are, however, much slower to “react”. Unlike chlorine they do not evaporate from water. Neither are they removed by typical water treatment techniques. As with chlorine, municipalities aim for I to 2 mg/l (ppm) chloramine residual in the potable water supply.
By far the biggest health concern is that no long term, and very few short-term studies have been performed that can clarify the effect of chloramines on human metabolism.
What we know for sure about chloramines demonstrates that they are both reactive and persistent — not only in water, but also in human tissue. One study demonstrated that after 5 days, over 95% of a single dose of chloramine administered to laboratory rats was still concentrated in tissues including plasma, blood, skin, packed cells, kidney, nerves, testes, thymus gland, spleen, liver, muscle tissue, bone marrow, etc.
Notwithstanding this information, utility companies around the country routinely misinform their customers, telling them that chloramines are effectively neutralized by stomach acids before they can reach the blood.
It is also known that chloramines cause DNA damage and are potential carcinogens. They are extremely dangerous to all forms of fresh and salt-water fish because they are absorbed directly from the gills and transported directly into the blood causing death in a short period of time.
In one study, doses at the levels used by municipalities to treat water resulted in a significant reduction of water consumption by rats vs. controls, along with significant decreases in glood glutathione levels in rats. Other studies demonstrated changes in the organ weights of rat spleens, livers, and kidneys. Other studies show that chloramine ingestion may be toxic to the organs that comprise the immune system.
The EPA admits that in their review of studies available, not much has been done to research the effect of oxidant stress on blood or tissues, nor is the long term effect of chloromine ingestion on plasma cholesterol metabolism.
Clinical reports of the effects of chloramines on humans show that some people suffer allergic contact dermatitis when exposed. Chloramines are also irritants to mucous membranes including those that line the nose, throat, and gastrointestinal system.
Remarkably, based on very few poorly designed studies, and virtually no long term studies, public utility companies routinely declare that the EPA has determined that the addition of chloramine to drinking water is absolutely safe!
While the effect on public health by not disinfecting drinking water supplies would be far worse than the alternative, advising the public that either chlorination or chloramination are completely non-toxic methods is ill-advised. We now know that chlorination has contributed greatly to heart disease, cancer, and other serious health issues in our human population. There is no reason to believe that chloramination will prove to be less troublesome. In fact, just the opposite is likely.
Consumers interested in home appliances capable of solving this problem will be disappointed to learn that most popular treatment technologies are completely unable to handle chloramines without modification. These include most cartridge-based systems using ceramic or carbon media, reverse-osmosis systems, and distillers.
The only media that is proven effective at removing chloramine is a specially designed carbon known as Catalytic Activated Carbon. Whole house systems require substantial amounts of this media. A flow of 2 gallons per minute requires a cubic foot of media so the average home will require 3 to 4 cubic feet in a backwashing filter to reduce the average amount of chloramine from 2 ppm to less than 0.1 ppm. In a drinking water appliance like most countertop or undercounter units, an entire 10" cartridge filled with the media is required on flow rates of 1/4 gpm.
Chloramines are toxic to humans, pets and plants here are some of the symptoms:
Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia.
Chloramine is used to disinfect water supplies (like the Hetch Hetchy system.) Water utilities often refer to chloramine as monochloramine.
In reality, chloramine exists as three different forms or species: monochloramine (NH2Cl), dichloramine (NHCl2) and trichloramine (NCl3). They are chemically related and are easily converted into each other; thus, they are more appropriately called chloramines.
The three species of chloramine constantly and rapidly shift from one form to another. The species that predominates is dependent on pH, temperature, turbulence, and the chlorine to ammonia ratio.
Even time plays a factor because after a day or so, with no changes in conditions, monochloramine in a water system will slowly degrade to form dichloramine and some trichloramine.
Chloramines are all respiratory irritants with trichloramine being the most toxic (order of toxicity: monochloramine < dichloramine < trichloramine-most severe.)
In contrast to what water utilities claim, it is impossible to have only monochloramine. It is not unusual in water systems for harmful di and trichloramines to occur.
Disinfection byproducts are chemicals formed when a disinfectant combines with organic matter or other chemicals present in water.
Trihalomethanes (THMs) are disinfection byproducts that are formed when organic matter in the water combines with chlorine.
THMs are also formed with chloramine disinfection but at a lower concentration-- (approximately 1/3 less) than chlorine.
THMs are possible but not proven cancer causing byproducts.
To reduce THMs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers other disinfection methods such as ultraviolet UV light treatment and chlorine dioxide (see the Alternative Disinfectants and Oxidants Guidance Manual, EPA 815-R-99-014, April 1999; the Table of Contents lists disinfection methods, one per chapter.)
Alternative disinfectants to chlorine, including chloramine, have not been studied for their health effects.
Chlorine is the only disinfectant that has been extensively studied.
The safest way to reduce THMs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is to remove the organic matter from the water first through prefiltration before disinfection with chlorine (see the WHO's Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, PDF 145 KB).
Characteristics of Chloramine
Chloramine is a less effective disinfectant than chlorine. The World Health Organization (WHO, PDF 145 KB) says that "monochloramine is about 2,000 and 100,000 times less effective than free chlorine for the inactivation of E. Coli and rotaviruses, respectively."
Chloramine does not dissipate easily compared to chlorine.
Chloramine stays in the water distribution system longer than chlorine.
Chloramine is difficult to remove.
Chloramine cannot be removed by boiling, distilling, or by standing uncovered.
Some disinfection byproducts of chloramine are even more toxic than those of chlorine, i.e. iodoacids.
Chloramine vapors and its disinfection byproducts can accumulate in indoor air and concentrate in an enclosed area such as a shower stall, small bathroom, kitchen, or apartment (see Toxic Showers and Baths on this website).
The EPA states that there are NO dermal (skin) and NO inhalant (respiratory) studies on chloramine as used as a disinfectant for drinking water.
The EPA states that there are INADEQUATE cancer studies on humans or animals.
In studies that do exist, one shows mononuclear cancer in female rats.
Another study shows reproductive toxicity and reduced reproductivity in mice and hamsters.
We are told by the SFPUC that chloraminated water is safe for humans to drink but we do not even know if it can cause cancer.
Research to date only explores oral (such as drinking tap water) exposure. It leaves out exposure through bathing or inhaling indoor vapors.
The disinfection byproducts of chloramine have not been studied and may be worse than those of chlorine. Chlorine and its disinfection byproducts have been studied extensively for years.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, in response to public outcry over health effects, requested on December 7, 2004 that the California Conference of Local Health Officers (CCLHO) evaluate "the potentially harmful effects caused by chloramine." (see Resolution, to be added to this website)
The CCLHO report of March 8, 2005 did NOT study the health effects of chloramine. It only reviewed previous studies, mostly about chlorine and trihalomethanes (for more information, see Article Archive and Links).
The CCLHO report recommends that the exposed public be monitored for health effects caused by chloramine. In other words, we the public are to be used as guinea pigs.
Effects of Chloramine on Human Health & Immune System Problems
Chloramine cannot kill the pathogens in the water as well as chlorine.
As a result, people with suppressed immune systems must have their water boiled over TEN minutes BEFORE use to kill pathogens, or they risk becoming ill.
Those at risk include children under 6 months of age, the elderly, those on or who have had chemotherapy, people with HIV or AIDS, organ transplant patients, and others with a weakened immune system.
Chloramine can cause and/or aggravate respiratory problems.
Chloramine fumes can cause an individual to become congested and cause sneezing, sinus congestion, coughing, choking, wheezing, shortness of breath, and asthma (see the Hazardous Substances Fact Sheet for Chloramine, PDF, 98 KB), by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services).
An increase in asthma due to exposure from chloramine in indoor swimming pool areas was shown in a Belgium study from the Catholic University of Louvain (PDF, 707 KB).
Chloramine damages mucous membranes. The lung damage in those exposed to chloramine in indoor pool air is similar to that seen in regular smokers (see Health24 News article).
Chloraminated vapor from showers, baths, hot tubs, dishwashers, and other household appliances contains volatilized chemicals that can be inhaled and cause irritation to the respiratory tract.
Inhaled chloraminated vapor can enter the bloodstream directly through the lungs. It bypasses the digestive tract where the SFPUC says it is broken down and excreted (questions 35 and 36 in their Chloramination Questions and Answers).
The SFPUC says that, "if monochloramine enters the bloodstream directly, it combines with hemoglobin (red blood cells) so it can no longer carry oxygen" (question 37).
The toxic exposure to chemicals (like chloramine) in water is greater from taking a shower than from drinking the same water (see Toxic Showers and Baths).
An individual can experience long term effects from repeated exposures to a chemical (like chloramine) at levels not high enough to make them immediately sick (see the Hazardous Substances Fact Sheet for Chloramine, page 3, PDF, 98 KB).
The likelihood of becoming sick from a chemical increases with exposure time and concentration (see the Hazardous Substances Fact Sheet for Chloramine, page 3, PDF, 98 KB).
In a study by Zierler, et al (PDF, 821 KB), it was found that there was an increase in deaths from influenza and pneumonia in the communities that used chloramine. (Communities in Massachusetts that used chlorine for disinfection were compared to those that used chloramine).
1) Chloramine exposure damages lung mucosa, making the lungs more susceptible to allergens and infections.
2) Chloramine is a less effective disinfectant and therefore people are exposed to more pathogens.
Chloramine tap water can cause severe skin reactions:
rashing dry skin
chapping burning sensation
Chloramine can aggravate other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Chloramine can cause bleeding lips, dry mouth and dry throat.
Chloramine can cause burning, red, and dry eyes.
Skin exposure to ammonia "breaks down cell structural proteins, extracts water from the cells and initiates an inflammatory response, which further damages the surrounding tissues."
Digestive and Gastric Problems
Chloramine damages digestive mucosa.
Chloramine can aggravate digestive disorders.
It is suggested that monochloramine is responsible for gastric cancer. (Journal of Gastroenterology, 1997, "Enhancement by Monochloramine of the Development of Gastric Cancers in Rats; a possible mechanism of Helicobacter, pylori-associated gastric carcinogenesis. Click here for a PDF, 2.87 MB.)
Kidney and Blood Problems
Persons with liver or kidney disease and those with hereditary urea cycle disorders are at increased risk for ammonia toxicity from the consumption of chloraminated water.
Kidney dialysis patients cannot use chloraminated water in their dialysis machines because it will cause hemolytic anemia.
Chloramine must be completely removed from the water in dialysis treatment using extensive carbon filtration and a reverse osmosis or Cation filtering system to remove both chlorine and ammonia from the water.
There are populations that are unusually susceptible to ammonia reactivity or toxicity due to factors such as genetic makeup, age, health status, etc.
Filtration for chloramine is very expensive compared to filtration for chlorine.
To remove chloramine, you must use specialized Chloramine specific catalytic carbon filter.
Sink water filters for chloramine handle low flow, cold water conditions only.
For high flow uses like showering and bathing, a whole house filtration system would be needed to effectively remove chloramine and ammonia.
“A whole house filtration system could cost between $10,000 to $15,000 with $1,200 maintenance per year.
For a 5-unit apartment building, the cost could be as high as $80,000 to $120,000 plus yearly maintenance.
Even with a comprehensive filtration system, no filtration system engineer will guarantee complete removal of chloramine. Chlorine is by far easier to remove with inexpensive carbon filtration.”
It is costly and time consuming for businesses that must filter out chloramine from their water for their use and processing needs. They include:
• chip manufacturers
• medical suppliers
• Pharmaceutical companies
• dialysis machine technicians
• pet stores with fish, amphibians, reptiles
• food businesses that use water (fresh or saltwater)
• photo labs
• biotech companies
The cost is often passed on to the consumer and the public at large.
Plumbing Problems and Some Implications for Health
Chloramine can cause leaching of lead from lead pipes, lead soldering and from so called "lead free" brass plumbing parts.
Lead leached by chloramine can cause lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause neurological damage, health problems and even death in young children.
Chloramine can cause pinhole pitting in copper pipes. Leaks from the pinholes can cause mold to grow. Some molds are highly toxic to humans and can endanger the health of individuals, often permanently.
Insurance companies do not cover damage from mold. As a result, some homeowners lose their homes.
Chloramine can cause rubber corrosion of rubber plumbing parts like toilet flappers and rubber casings.
Rubber corroded parts need to be replaced with chloramine resistant parts such as synthetic polymer.
Rubber corrosion can be spotted as early as 6 months after chloramine has been added to the water supply. Signs of corrosion can be seen when little black specks appear in the water from plumbing parts.
The thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in plumbing repair costs caused by chloramine are passed on to property owners.
Canadian EPA ruled chloramine "toxic" as defined in Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, as a result of a study assessing the impact of high volume chloraminated water discharges entering the environment, particularly on fish.
Chloramine is toxic to fish, amphibians, and water-based reptiles and marine invertebrates. Chloramine enters directly into the bloodstream of fish, and amphibians through gills and skin, respectively.
Chloramine must be removed from the water with a GAC (granular activated carbon) filter followed by a reverse osmosis or Cation filter. Note: The GAC filtration filters out only the chlorine from the chloramine molecule leaving the ammonia behind.
Chloramine run-off from water hydrants or broken mains that enter storm drains, streams, lakes, rivers, and creeks, endangers the lives of fish, amphibians, water invertebrates, and other sensitive marine animals.
Chloramine must be filtered out BEFORE it reaches bodies of water. This includes wastewater released into the environment from wastewater treatment plants.
CCAC recommends that chloramine be removed from the water supply. The SFPUC should discontinue the use of chloramine as a water disinfectant until the appropriate scientific studies are done to test the safety of chloramine as a water treatment option.
CCAC supports the use of prefiltration of organic matter before disinfection that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends to control trihalomethanes (THMs). The use of prefiltration will allow us to continue to use chlorine as our water disinfectant thus eliminating all the harmful effects that chloramine is causing.
Note: Organic matter is a precursor to the formation of trihalomethanes, a possible but not proven carcinogen. Removing organic matter prevents the formation of trihalomethanes in the first place. This allows the use of chlorine and takes best advantage of its superior disinfection capabilities. Chlorine is much more effective at killing disease causing organisms than chloramine. Chlorine has been well tolerated for decades, is easily and inexpensively filtered out, and has been studied extensively. For a more complete explanation, see the WHO report, "Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality."
Copied from http://www.chloramine.org/chloraminefacts.htm