How Does Chlorine in Water Affect My Health?
Every day, millions of people drink chlorinated water.
Chlorine is used to keep our water clean by disinfecting it and killing germs. And it does a rather incredible job of eliminating most pathogens in the water we drink.
The addition of chlorine to our drinking water began around the turn of the twentieth century and remains as effective today as it was back then. At first induction of chlorine to the water supply, it brought about a rapid reduction in the spread of disease and other waterborne ailments. It made it easier for cities and towns to purify drinking water and to help keep their residents safe.
Now, however, it seems these improvements may have come at a price. While we appreciate and applaud the benefits chlorine has brought us, it’s time we also look to protect ourselves from the potential harm of drinking chlorine.
“Chlorine, added as an inexpensive and effective drinking water disinfectant, is also a known poison to the body,” says one prominent manufacturer of water filters. “It is certainly no coincidence that chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First World War.” The gas would severely burn the lungs and other body tissue when inhaled and is no less powerful when ingested by mouth.
True, a water filter manufacturer might be accused of bias, but recent research seems to validate their claims. Let’s see!
Okay, what exactly is chlorine?
Chlorine is a chemical used in industry and in household cleaning products and is among the ten highest volume chemicals in the United States. At room temperature, chlorine is a gas. It has a yellow-green color and a pungent, irritating odor not unlike bleach. Usually, it is pressurized and cooled for storage and shipment as an amber-colored liquid.
Why is chlorine added to water?
Put simply, chlorine destroys disease-causing germs and helps make water safe to drink.
Chlorine is added to water through as dry calcium hypochlorite, a liquid sodium hypochlorite solution like bleach, or as chlorine gas. So, no matter which way chlorine is added, it works to destroy contaminants in the water supply.
It’s also used as a disinfectant in sewage treatment and as a sanitizer in swimming pools.
How does it work?
Water contains many different bacteria, parasites, viruses, and contaminants. Chlorine’s chemical elements attack cell walls, slime coatings and shells, effectively destroying the contaminants.
Besides killing dangerous bacteria, viruses, and parasites, chlorine helps eliminate slime bacteria, molds, and algae commonly growing in water supply reservoirs, on the walls of water mains and in storage tanks.
How much chlorine is used in municipal water supplies?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the National Primary Drinking Water regulations. Consequently, it sets the standards for how much chlorine is acceptable in municipal water supplies.
A bit of history
The idea of adding chlorine to public drinking systems first gained a foothold around the end of the 19th century. People had long battled a variety of ailments that were spread through water, including diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. When scientists acknowledged that adding chlorine in small amounts to drinking water could kill bacteria and microbes in the public water system and help slow or even stop the spread of these waterborne diseases, the idea of adding chlorine to water supplies was slow at first, then became popular rather quickly.
In 1897, Maidstone, England, became the first town to have its water supply entirely treated with chlorine. Beginning September 26, 1908, Jersey City, New Jersey, became the first American city to chlorinate municipal drinking water supplies routinely. Over the next decade, more than a thousand U.S. cities adopted chlorination, which significantly reduced infectious diseases, and virtually eradicating waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever.
Today, around 98 percent of U.S. water treatment systems use some kind of chlorine purification procedure to help provide safe drinking water. The EPA requires treated tap water to contain a noticeable level of chlorine to guard against germs as it flows from the treatment plant to customers’ taps.
There’s no doubt that chlorinating drinking water played a major role in increasing Americans’ life expectancy by as much as 50 percent during the 20th century. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls drinking water chlorination “one of the most significant public health advances in U.S. history.”
Okay, what about the key concern: What are the possible effects of exposure to high levels of chlorine?
Did you know? According to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, the risk of developing cancer is 93 percent higher in people who drink or are otherwise exposed to chlorinated water?
Maybe our water filter manufacturer quoted above has a point!
Chlorine is a would-be health threat to both children and adults, and it is an issue that should be taken seriously.
There is a lot of well-founded concern about chlorine. When chlorine is added to our water, it combines with other natural compounds to form Trihalomethanes (chlorination byproducts), or THMs. These chlorine byproducts trigger the production of free radicals in the body, causing cell damage and are highly carcinogen. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Although concentrations of the carcinogens (THMs) are low, it is precisely these low levels that cancer scientists believe are responsible for the majority of human cancers in the United States.”
According to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the byproducts of chlorine are associated with an increased risk of bladder and rectal cancers.
Simply stated, chlorine is a pesticide, as defined by the EPA, whose sole purpose is to kill living organisms. When we consume water containing chlorine, it kills some part of us, destroying cells and tissue inside our body. Dr. Robert Carlson, a highly respected University of Minnesota researcher whose work is sponsored by the EPA, sums it up by claiming, “the chlorine problem is similar to that of air pollution.”
Let’s face it. In spite of all our technological advances, we essentially still pour bleach in our water before we drink it.
Can chlorine can destroy your gut bacteria?
The problems with chlorine stem from the very reason it’s so useful – it’s the ability to kill bacteria. When chlorine is introduced into water, it kills pathogenic bacteria. But when it’s introduced into the human body, it destroys our beneficial gut bacteria, where an estimated 70 percent of our immune system operates.
Recent research points to the significance of healthy and flourishing gut bacteria. Scientists have found a connection between a lack of these valuable microbes in our digestive system and the presence of a wide range of diseases, including obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and certain autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and asthma, even autism.
A recent survey published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that byproducts of water chlorination could be blamed for the rise of food allergies in the western world.
Hazardous for your children’s health?
According to several highly regarded studies on chlorine, drinking, and long-term exposure to chlorinated water can potentially increase the risks of asthmatic attacks, particularly in children who do not have improved airway systems.
It’s also been shown that showering and bathing in chlorinated water can increase the risk of eczema in children.
Apart from its health risks, chlorine contaminated water is a primary cause of odor and bad taste in drinking water. The unpleasant taste may cause your children to opt for less healthful beverages to hydrate and refresh themselves, such as soft drinks and other sweetened drinks that are detrimental for their health.
Can it result in heart problems?
Chlorine added to your water supply can also pose serious threats to your cardiovascular health, says Dr. Joseph Price, author of “Coronaries, Cholesterol & Chlorine.”
He conducted a test with chickens to find out the fundamental cause of atherosclerosis that eventually led to strokes and heart attacks. Results confirmed that all the chickens that drank the chlorine-contaminated water showed levels of heart and circulatory diseases. The group that went without chlorine grew up much faster and displayed vigorous health.
Again, a tip of the hat to our water filter manufacturer.
Is the problem just in our drinking water?
One of the more shocking components to these chlorine studies is that up to two-thirds of our harmful exposure to chlorine is due to inhalation of steam and skin absorption while showering. A warm shower opens up pores of the skin and allows for accelerated absorption of chlorine and other chemicals in the water. The steam we inhale while showering can contain up to 50 times the level of chemicals than tap water because chlorine and most other contaminants vaporize much faster and at a lower temperature than water. The EPA’s Dr. Lawrence Wallace says that “Showering is suspected as the primary cause of elevated levels of chloroform in nearly every home because of chlorine in the water.”
Are there practical solutions?
The good news in all of this is that chlorine is one of the easiest substances to remove from our water. For that reason, chlorine should continue to serve its purpose of keeping our water free from harmful bacteria and waterborne diseases right up to the time of consumption, where it should then be removed by quality home water filtration.
J&A South Park offers a variety of products to reduce the chlorine content in your water supply dramatically.The Enviro Ultimate Combo Series is IAMPO-certified to reduce chlorine by 97 percent and DVGW-certified to prevent 99.6 percent of scale.
The product also transforms scale-forming calcium and magnesium into harmless crystals. The Enviro unit wastes no water and doesn’t discharge harmful salt brine into the environment.
A few words about hard water
Water is considered hard if it has a high concentration of dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium. These elements can be picked up by groundwater as it passes in and around soil and rocks. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG), parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). The Water Quality Association considers water to be hard if it has more than 17.1 ppm or 1 GPG. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 85 percent of water in the U.S. is considered hard water.
The term hardness was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in, referring to the soap wasting properties of hard water. Hardness prevents soap from lathering by causing the development of an insoluble curdy precipitate in the water. Hardness typically causes the buildup of hardness scale, such as seen in cooking pans.
Is hard water safe to drink?
Generally speaking, hard water is safe to drink. That said, the effect of hard water on hair, skin, and outside of the body is a different story. Taking a hard water shower can cause “hard water skin” and “hard water hair,” where the water can reduce moisture and leave behind a film, making both feel less clean to the touch. This may cause dandruff in your hair and irritate and instigate dry skin problems such as eczema.