The Dirty Little Secret Behind the Chlorine in Your Water

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March 19, 2005 | 24,351 views

By Richard Mesquita, AquaMD

If you are on a public water system -- meaning a utility company supplies your water -- it's extremely likely it contains chlorine and disinfection-byproducts.

Water companies have used chlorine as their main disinfecting strategy for almost a century. In the early years of the 20th century, chlorination of water was used in Great Britain in an attempt to stop typhoid fever. Due to some success in Great Britain -- and because chlorine was so inexpensive -- the chlorination of water began in the United States in Jersey City, N.J., in 1908, and hasn't stopped since!

Chlorination virtually eliminated waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis. Today, utility companies still use chlorine to prevent and kill bacteria that might otherwise be present in water supplies. Over the last 30 years, however, a growing body of research has shown chlorine and its assorted byproducts are very harmful to your health.

For example, when chlorine interacts with organic matter in water, it forms disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Two primary DBP categories are trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and haloacetic acids (HAA's).

These DBPs have been linked to damaging effects to heart, lung, kidney and central nervous system as well as cancer. Even worse, the Environmental Protection Agency recent lowered the level of TTHMs they will permit in the water supply to 80 ppb (parts per billion).

All About the Money

As always, cost is one reason -- and probably the sole reason -- water companies prevented this standard from being reduced even further. Water companies felt it would cost too much to remove a greater amount of these DBPs from their water, so they pushed for an elevated standard. Nevertheless, it's telling the EPA sets the goal for some of these byproducts at 0 because they are so dangerous (unfortunately the EPA goal is not enforceable).

Water companies do conduct some testing for DBPs in their water supply and provide the results to their customers. But, for the sake of your family's health, here's what they aren't telling you:

More Distortions

What's more, here are some recent distortions we've discovered water companies all over the country are telling their customers:

  1. One water company in New York actually had TTHM levels of 89 ppb. But because the average level for the year was below 80 ppb, they could legally claim their water meets all safe drinking water standards.

  2. Similarly, a water company in Pennsylvania recorded TTHM levels of 94 ppb. But because the average was lower than 80 ppb, they told their customers their water was safe.

  3. Another water company in California logged average TTHM levels of 78 ppb. Since 78 ppb is just below the standard of 80 ppb, they can legally claim their water is safe.

  4. A Florida water company made the same claims because their TTHM average was 73 ppb.

I'd like to tell you these are isolated examples, but they're not. They are the norm.

If DBPs are in your water, you will be exposed to them primarily by inhaling steam vapor when you shower (DBPs easily escape into the air). If DBPs are in your water, I urge you to have them removed to protect your family's health.

Please don't fool yourself into thinking that you can tell your water is safe by the way it looks, tastes, or smells.

Some contaminants in water are so harmful that they are measured in "parts per million" or "parts per billion." In other words, just a drop of these poisons added to gallons and gallons of water can be very harmful.

Just installing a filter to purify your drinking water may not be enough. You could still be exposed to contaminated water when you:

  1. Shower or bathe
  2. Wash your hands
  3. Wash laundry
  4. Rinse fruits and vegetables
  5. Wash dishes, glasses, and other utensils

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