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What are chloramines and what are they doing in our water supply?

Chloramines or monochloramines are formed by adding Ammonia to the drinking water supply, the ammonia reacts with the chlorine that is already in the drinking water and monochloramine is formed.

Each state in Australia needs to supply clean and healthy drinking water to your tap. To do this it must comply with the guidelines set out by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The only way to get the water safely through the maze of pipes all the way to your house, which sometimes can take days, is to chlorinate the water with a mixture of either chlorine gas, powder or tablets; until recently chlorination has been the preferred choice in most States. Chlorine is a great sanitiser however it reacts with organic matter in the water and produces disinfection by- products (DBP’s) an example of which is Trihalomethanes (THMS) many of which are thought to be carcinogenic. Trihalomethanes with all the same halogen atoms are called haloforms. Another issue with using chlorine is that it dissipates; if you stand a bucket of water overnight the next day a lot of the chlorine will have dissipated.

It is due to some of the reasons above that chloramines have been introduced to the water supply; the theory is that chloramine produces less THMs than chlorine. The benefits apart from less expense we are told is that we now produce less THMs (not conclusive) and we have a more stable way of preventing water becoming contaminated on the way to your house, great news for the water authorities not great news for the consumer.

Chloramines are all respiratory irritants with trichloramine being the most toxic (order of toxicity: monochloramine < dichloramine < trichloramine-most severe.)
Chloramine or monochloramine is unfortunately not something that could be considered as harmless, so much so in fact that it is toxic to marine life. Monochloramine reacts with copper, there are legal cases now in the USA where people are seeking compensation after their copper pipes became corroded after the introduction of chloramines. Erin Brockovich (think Julia Roberts) has become very vocal about this subject and has written a very interesting article about this, she states that “Chloramine is 200 times less effective than chlorine in killing e-coli bacteria, rotaviruses, and polio”.

More bad news is that traditional carbon filtration will not remove monochloramine or chloramines, it leaves the ammonia in the water. A specialised chloramine removal cartridge is required or a quality reverse osmosis system.

Another major issue with chloramines particularly when mixed with fluoride, is the leaching of lead from water pipes, there have been several high profile cases in Washington DC and North Carolina where elevated concentrations of lead were found after the introduction of chloramines, lead is a silent killer and our children are most at risk who consume a lot more water than adults based on their body mass.

The good news is that several top filtration manufacturers such as Pentek and Omnipure have added catalytic extruded carbon to their cartridges which will remove chloramines! The Omnipure OMB 934 ml/w chloramines cartridge removes lead and chloramines along with THMs and chlorine.

What this all means for you as a consumer of water and more particularly your children is that you might just want to think about either installing a water filter that is capable of removing chloramines and lead or if you already have a system replace your cartridges with one that is certified to remove chloramines and lead. Please do not be fooled by people trying to sell you inferior products ask for the specification sheet, you need to know what contaminants it removes from the water, how much of the contaminant it removes for example is it 60%, 95% and how long will it carry on being effective for 1000 Litres 2500 Litres? I hope you get the message insist on getting a specification sheet with your cartridge, if it doesn’t have one why not?