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The need for clean and safe drinking water has been steadily increasing as time passes by. And, with the increasing demand for clean water, the higher authorities have done their part in providing their citizens potable water.
But how exactly did they conclude that the water that comes out of our faucets are clean and safe to drink? What was used to clean it? These questions might have wandered into your head every time you get yourself a glass of water from your kitchen faucet.
If you try researching America’s water treatment facilities, you’ll find that chlorine is frequently mentioned as a commonly used disinfectant. And, you might have also noticed that there have been numerous complaints about the bad taste and odor it gives to your water.
In the US, over 98% of facilities that supply water use chlorine to eliminate bacteria and viruses from tap water, making it safe for everyday consumption. Although some might still be skeptical about the safety of their tap water, is chlorinated water safe for consumption?
This article will help you understand the pros and cons as well as the potential risks of having chlorine content in our water.
What is Chlorine?
Before we dive deeper into the effects of consuming chlorinated water, it’s important to know what type of chemical chlorine is and where it came from. So, chlorine is a chemical element.
Scientifically speaking, it is second to fluorine as the lightest halogen in the periodic table. Chlorine first surfaced in the earlier part of the 1200s due to the discovery of Agua Regia or the King’s Water (known purifier of gold).
History books say that Jan Baptist van Helmont, a Flemish chemist and physician was the first to distinguish this chemical element as chlorine gas. But further studies about chlorine were made by Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
Thanks to these remarkable people, chlorine has now been used for numerous applications that have helped our current society. For years chlorine has been an indispensable component, used in the manufacturing of countless products.
And, these products have contributed to the advancement of technology, transportation, security, and most especially, to public health and safety.
A lot of you might be wondering how chlorine is formed. Chlorine is made using the chloralkali process. It’s when electricity is applied to a saltwater solution or brine. Through this process, the sodium found in the saltwater solution separates from the chloride thereby producing chlorine.
Why Is Chlorination Important?
Water sources are known to have a lot of contaminants. May it be the seas, lakes, or even rivers, there are bound to be some microorganisms inhabiting that water. Although not all of these microorganisms are harmful to humans, we can conclude that some can cause adverse illnesses.
These pathogens have tormented many countries that do not have water treatment facilities. Because of that, the need for clean water to promote better health has been steadily increasing. A popular way to combat these harmful contaminants was chlorination.
Many countries have sworn to this method as one of the most effective ways to kill bacteria and viruses. Thus, preventing a lot of water-borne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, and also parasites that can cause a decline in the health of those people who use it for daily consumption.
Due to the mass casualties caused by dirty water consumption, many countries have applied water chlorination to ensure safe drinking water. But not all countries can afford this type of water sterilization.
This is especially true in third world countries which is why they still have water-related diseases up to date.
How Water Chlorination Works
Chlorine addition to water does not follow a particular schedule. You don’t need to add it at a specific time in the process of water treatment. And, that’s the great thing about it. But it’s important to know that at each point of its addition, it eliminates a specific contaminant.
This is how water treatment facilities guarantee that water that came in their facility has gone through an intensive process of filtering and purifying before it goes out into the homes of the citizens of America.
So, how does water chlorination work? Upon its addition to water, two chemical compounds, hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite ion (OCl¯), collectively known as “free chlorine” are formed.
These free chlorine particles are what helps in the disinfection process. Contact time monitoring is essential to see if the disinfection process is successful. Contact time is the period from when chlorine is introduced to the water up to when the water is used or consumed.
Longer contact times ensure that most of the microorganisms and substances, if not all, in the water are thoroughly eliminated. Contact times may vary depending on the chlorine concentration used, pH of the water, the type of pathogens, and substances to eliminate as well as the overall temperature of the water.
However, certain systems do not permit having longer contact times. Thus, super chlorination (increased amounts in chlorine) is done to make up for the shortened contact time. But, to make sure that water is safe for usage, dechlorination is necessary to remove the excess chlorine.
Types of Chlorine Used in Water Treatment
Public water treatment facilities like the ones used by the government usually use chlorine in its gaseous state to disinfect and treat water. On the other hand, private institutions prefer to use it in its liquid state.
Nevertheless, these facilities follow strict guidelines as to the storage and usage of these chlorine types. Chlorine for water disinfection comes in two types: Dry and liquid chlorine. Both types have their respective advantages as well as drawbacks.
Water Chlorination in America
Up until the year 1908, there had been no facility in the United States that chemically disinfected water. During those times, there had been a higher prevalence of water-borne diseases resulting in an increased amount of illnesses and deaths.
Water chlorination became one of the most significant public health advances in America as a response made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to an epidemic of cholera during the 1990s. This was when the Safe Water System (SWS) was established.
The CDC and PAHO then treated the water by point-of-use chlorination for consumers utilizing locally produced diluted sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) solution as a treatment method for the SWS.
The SWS also emphasized the safe and proper storage of the treated water. The families were taught the proper ratio of chlorine and water which is 1 bottle cap full to clear water and 2 bottle caps for turbid and murky water in a standard-sized container, mix and wait 30 minutes before drinking.
Benefits of Water Chlorination
Water chlorination was a breakthrough in science that was very needed during the crisis of waterborne diseases. This method is even being used up to this day. The application of water chlorination has improved water supplies and reservoirs as compared to before.
Here are some of the benefits of utilizing water chlorination to disinfect your water supply.
- Easy to use
- Low cost and adaptability
- Practical for developing countries
- Can neutralize foul tastes and odors
- Lasting protection against recontamination
- Inhibits slime bacteria, molds and algae growth
- An effective method for water emergencies
Drawbacks of Water Chlorination
Despite the many benefits of water chlorination, this method is not perfect. And like all other methods, there are drawbacks to using it. But remember that there are solutions to these drawbacks which can increase the effectiveness of chlorination.
- Has residual effects
- Needs quality control of the solution
- Low effectiveness in turbid and murky water
- Can cause chlorine poisoning in certain cases
- Some people are sensitive to chlorine-treated water
- Cannot inactivate all microbes and some protozoans
- Chlorination by-products can cause cancer through long-term exposure.
- It is effective for groundwater not so much for the surface microbes
Health Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water
Though it may be rare, chlorinated drinking water can have adverse effects on one’s health. A common cause of these adverse effects is due to chlorine forming trihalomethanes (THM) as well as chloroform.
This phenomenon happens when chlorine comes in contact with organic particles present in water. The newly formed chemical compounds can cause asthma symptoms, congenital abnormalities, food allergies, and even bladder cancer. It is also not good for people who are undergoing dialysis.
Due to the complications chlorinated water causes, people are now removing chlorine from their drinking water by using carbon. Carbon is added to their water filters which will then bind to the chlorine which will then give you chlorine-free water.
Water treatment plants are doing all they can to ensure that US consumers have healthy and clean water. This is why some municipal treatment plants still chlorinate their water so they use ammonia to neutralize the chlorine leading to the formation of chloramines.
How much Chlorine is safe?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5 mg of chlorine to a liter of water (mg/L) is the recommended amount for safe water drinking. On the other hand, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), recommends 4mg of chlorine to a liter of water.
There have been many claims by people drinking water with chlorine exceeding the recommended 5 mg, and has not shown any adverse effects. But upon further research consumption of chlorinated water for more than 20 years can lead to bladder cancer.
Effect on Pets and Plants
Chlorine and chloramines have no adverse effect on regular household pets but they are toxic to aquatic animals, amphibians, and reptiles as well as show animals. These animals should not be placed in waters with chlorine because unlike humans and household pets, these animals absorb water which will go directly to their bloodstream.
Sheep and cattle are especially sensitive to chlorinated water. These animals have 4 chambered digestive systems called a rumin which is entirely dependent on microorganisms and fermentation processes to aid in their digestion.
Since chlorine is used to kill bacteria in the water to sterilize it before drinking, this may also kill the bacteria found in the animals’ digestive systems making them lose appetite with their food and may also refuse to drink water.
Pigs and horses are also not immune to chlorine-treated waters since these animals are monogastric. An astounding case study made about a pig barn with chlorine treated waters has shown an increase in abortion rates, abnormal stillbirth rates, and its even affecting their heat cycles.
And, if that isn’t enough, the piglets that have survived are experiencing multiple complications as well and have increased death rates. This predicament may be taxing for animal farmers since they cannot risk their animals from getting sick from contaminated waters.
Chlorine is also toxic to plants as well as their soil. Some scientists and plant enthusiasts may say otherwise since there are no significant changes seen in soil watered with chlorinated waters.
Organic farmers, however, are against chlorinated water since it kills the microbes on the surface of the soil thereby causing a significant effect on the ecosystem of the soil which then will affect the plant. But since no significant research has been made people in the US still use chlorine treated waters on their plants.
Whether or not chlorine is good for disinfection, we still cannot disregard its harmful effects on our health as well as our plants and pets. To avoid this, having a whole house water filter would save you from these unwanted effects.
Investing in a whole house water filter is a big leap. But to protect yourself and the people around you from the effects of drinking contaminated water, then it may as well be worth it. See more here https://www.aquaoxwaterfilters.com/product/aquaox/.