Reasons To Be Concerned About Chlorine In Water.


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Dear EarthTalk: I am very concerned about the amount of chlorine in my tap water. I called my water company and they said it is safe just let the tap run for awhile to rid the smell of the chlorine. But that just gets rid of the smell, perhaps, not the chlorine?

Thousands of American municipalities add chlorine to their drinking water to get rid of contaminants like nitrates, arsenic and pesticides. But this inexpensive and highly effective disinfectant has a dark side. “Chlorine, added as an inexpensive and effective drinking water disinfectant, is also a known poison to the body,” says Vanessa Lausch of filter manufacturer Aquasana. “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 tissues when inhaled, and is no less powerful when ingested by mouth.

Lausch adds that researchers have now linked chlorine in drinking water to higher incidences of bladder, rectal and breast cancers. Reportedly chlorine, once in water, interacts with organic compounds to create trihalomethanes (THMs) – which when ingested encourage the growth of free radicals that can destroy or damage vital cells in the body. “Because so much of the water we drink ends up in the bladder and/or rectum, ingestions of THMs in drinking water are particularly damaging to these organs,” says Lausch.

The link between chlorine and bladder and rectal cancers has long been known, but only recently have researchers found a link between common chlorine disinfectant and breast cancer, which affects one out of every eight American women. A recent study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60 percent higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their breast tissue than cancer-free women.

But don’t think that buying bottled water is any solution. Much of the bottled water for sale in the U.S. comes from public municipal water sources that are often treated with, you guessed it, chlorine. A few cities have switched over to other means of disinfecting their water supplies. Las Vegas, for example, has followed the lead of many European and Canadian cities in switching over to harmless ozone instead of chlorine to disinfect its municipal water supply.

As for getting rid of the chlorine that your city or town adds to its drinking water on your own, theories abound. Some swear by the method of letting their water sit for 24 hours so that the chlorine in the glass or pitcher will off-gas. Letting the tap run for a while is not likely to remove any sizable portion of chlorine, unless one were to then let the water sit overnight before consuming it. Another option is a product called WaterYouWant, which looks like sugar but actually is composed of tasteless antioxidants and plant extracts. The manufacturer claims that a quick shake of the stuff removes 100 percent of the chlorine (and its odor) from a glass a tap water. A year’s supply of WaterYouWant retails for under $30.

Of course, an easier way to get rid of chlorine from your tap water is by installing a carbon-based filter, which absorbs chlorine and other contaminants before they get into your glass or body. Tap-based filters from the likes of Paragon, Aquasana, Kenmore, Seagul and others remove most if not all of the chlorine in tap water, and are relatively inexpensive to boot.

CONTACTS: Aquasana,; WaterYouWant,

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; Read past columns at: EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at:

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  1. Since I started drinking mostly filtered water, its hard to go back to regular tap water. I do when I’m out and run out of water in my bottle, but I try to drink filtered water as much as possible. Thanks for the filter suggestions. I’m looking into getting a new system.

  2. The situation with drinking water purification now involves a much more dangerous chemical, chloramine, and we still have the problem that chlorine is used first to be giving off ozone depleting haloforms. The basic process now is first treating incoming water with chlorine, and then some ammonia is added to make chloramine, a rather nasty chemical, for which water districts sent out flyers warning that neoprene tubing and washers would degrade over time. That doesn’t sound to happy for digestive systems.
    Chloramine is quite reactive and can form UDMH, the chemical bugaboo that put ALAR out of business. This reaction to make UDMH and a number of closely related chemicals occurs with various amines that are released in the decomposing of plant and especially animal tissues with the amines being very noticeable with rotting fish giving off amines including the one to form UDMH. Also many pesticides and drugs can release several amines to form UDMH or closely related chemicals.
    As far as I know, EPA or other agencies have no idea about whether chloramine has any reactions with other chemicals that can be in the water you drink or in the foods that get cooked with the water. Consequently, when I learned my water district switched to using chloramine, I switched to bottled spring water. And I do not buy the non-spring water supposedly purified bottled waters as they start from tap water, and chloramine may stay in the purified product as it is very water soluble and not easily removed.
    Dr. James Singmaster, Environmental Chemist, Ret. Fremont, CA

  3. The above mentioned filters will indeed remove chlorine from your water, but it neglects to mention other chemicals, pathogens, and contaminants. Though the carbon filters are a quick fix for chlorine, it does not mean you now have safe drinking water. With all of the chemicals and prescription drugs now found in municipality water systems, a carbon filter just won’t cut it. The best available options for safe and clean water is reverse osmosis, and distillation. These types of systems will remove virtually everything harmful in our water, giving you the purest water achievable today.

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