For over 100 years, chlorine has been used to disinfect public water supplies in the United States. Though chlorine serves an important role in killing harmful pathogens, many consumers worry about the potential side effects from chlorine in their drinking water. This article will cover the benefits and risks of chlorine in your tap water, as well as strategies to get rid of it.
Effects of Chlorine in Your Water
Chlorine is a disinfectant; it kills harmful bacteria and other parasites that can contaminate your drinking water. Because of this benefit, many municipal water centers intentionally add chlorine to the water supply to kill germs at the source and to provide an added layer of protection all the way to your faucet. You may notice chlorine in your tap water by a chemical or bleachy smell. Despite chlorine’s beneficial role as a disinfectant, it also comes with health risks. Chlorine in water can combine with other chemicals in water, like methane, to form trihalomethanes (THMs), particularly chloroform. THMs can have a carcinogenic effect; bladder and rectal cancers are the most common forms of cancer caused by THMs in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of THMs in our drinking water, but (to me at least) it’s not really clear how those limits were determined or what they mean. Chloroform is considered a carcinogen in more “progressive” states like California. Interestingly, chloroform can often exceed even the EPA limits in drinking water. Chloroform also has a lower boiling point than water, so if you like to take hot showers in enclosed spaces (most showers are in enclosed spaces, mind you), you are breathing it, possibly a lot of it. And in recent years, some scientists have raised questions about the effect of chlorine on helpful bacteria that live in our guts (as in chlorine probably kills the microbiome in our guts). The effect of chlorine in this area is understudied, any may be an important factor when considering the safety of tap water chlorination in the future.
Eliminating Chlorine From Your Tap Water
If you are concerned about chlorine in your tap water (re-read the previous paragraph), there are several steps you can take. First, you may be tempted to switch to bottled water instead of relying on tap water. Unfortunately, many bottled water companies also use chlorine as a disinfectant, making bottled water a poor substitute for tap water (you could try Nestle below, by the pallet). Second, you should actually make sure that chlorine is in your drinking water. Some cities have switched to ozone instead of chlorine to disinfect public water supplies. You can check with your local water department to determine how your water is treated. You can also test your water for the amount of chlorine using a number of simple, at-home products. Finally, if you wish to eliminate chlorine in your tap water, you should consider a filtration system with activated carbon. Activated carbon can bind to and eliminate chlorine and other harmful molecules from your tap water. You can find activated carbon filters in systems ranging from small, pitcher filters to large under the sink water purification systems.
Chlorine serves an important role in disinfecting our water supply and keeping us safe from harmful pathogens. Unfortunately, large amounts of chlorine can lead to health problems and maybe even cancer. The effect of chlorine on our gut bacteria is also unknown and may be cause for concern. Fortunately, eliminating chlorine in tap water can be as simply as adopting an activated carbon filtration system.