What’s Really in Your Water? And Why Should You Care?
You turn on the tap, water comes out, and it is healthy enough to drink.
But is it, really?
Let’s look at the journey water takes from its source to your home.
First, water comes from a variety of sources like lakes and wells, which contain germs that we definitely don’t want to drink. Then, water becomes contaminated as it travels miles and miles of piping to reach your community and, finally, your home. These are germs like Salmonella, Campylobacter, and norovirus that make people sick.
To combat contamination by these germs, many public water districts have to add disinfectants to the water, usually chlorine or chloramine. Water disinfection is very successful and lauded as one of the great public health achievements. It is the reason that tap water in the United States is relatively free of waterborne germs. However, it is not a perfect system.
Chlorine and Chloramine Treated Water
Chlorine has been used as a water disinfectant in the United States since 1908. It is still the primary disinfectant used today because of its effectiveness and low cost. However, chlorine is volatile and is used up quickly in water systems. Sometimes there is not enough chlorine to kill germs in the water by the time it reaches the end of the line.
Chlorine can react with naturally-occurring organic matter in the water (fully-decomposed and dissolved leaves, for instance), creating disinfection by-products (DBPs) that are harmful to one’s health. Chlorine also creates taste and smell issues – depending on the water quality and amount of chlorine in the water.
Chloramine is formed by mixing chlorine and ammonia. Some water districts have switched to chloramine as a way to address issues with chlorine.
Chloramine lasts longer in the water pipes and produces fewer disinfection by-products. However, due to its acidic nature, chloramine-treated water is more corrosive than chlorine-treated water which leads to increased exposure to lead in drinking water. Chloramine has no odor or taste. But chloramine must be removed from the water when it is being used for baking, and craft brewing. See our blog post: “Beer: It’s All About the Water.”
Tap Water and Your Health
Take a quick look at the web and you’ll find a mixed bag of messages about how chlorine, chloramine, and DBPs affect your health.
Some examples of what you’ll find on your Google search:
- The City of San Diego’s Annual Drinking Water Quality Report (2019 ) states: “Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population. Immunocompromised persons and some elderly and infants can be particularly at risk from infections. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers… Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk.”
- Home dialysis users need to remove all chemical disinfectants, including chlorine and chloramine, before water can be used for dialysis (Greensboro, NC).
- For pets: Both chlorine and chloramine are toxic to fish and other aquatic animals, reptiles, and amphibians. Don’t keep these animals in water that contains these disinfectants (Greensboro, NC).
- Though there is limited research about the health risks of breathing or coming into contact with DBPs, there are studies that show that DBPs can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin during bathing and showering. Chlorine vapors are known to be respiratory irritants. Chlorine was used as a chemical weapon in WWII after all.
- And, as a cosmetic issue: Chlorine dries out your skin and hair in the shower (Chlorine’s Effects on Skin and Hair).
There is a plethora of information out there. The point is to do some research and decide for yourself if you think chlorination could be affecting your health enough to do something about it.
Water in San Diego County
Chlorine and chloramine are not going to go away anytime soon. You can find out what kind of disinfectant is used in your water and how well your water is maintained by obtaining a copy of your utility company’s Consumer Confidence Report. Your water utility company must send this to all customers each year (by law).
Your Water Solution
So how can you be sure what comes out of the tap is something you want to put into your body? The only way to be 100% worry-free about the drinking and showering water in your home, is to install a whole house filtration system.
Contact Arnett’s Water Systems for all of your water filtration needs! Financing available on all our products. Estimates are always free.