The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed stringent regulations to address known health risks associated with disinfection byproducts in chlorinated water. To comply with the tougher standards, many water systems across the country have transitioned from chlorine to a safe, proven disinfectant known as chloramine. Pennsylvania American Water’s West Shore, East Shore, Pittsburgh, Brownsville and Uniontown water systems are among the water systems that successfully made the change.
Chloramination is a common disinfection process used by the water industry in which a small amount of ammonia in water is added to chlorine in water at the end of our treatment process. The EPA widely accepts chloramine as an effective treatment to prevent the waterborne transmission of parasites that are capable of causing sickness. For decades, cities in Pennsylvania and across the United States and Canada have relied on chloramine to treat their drinking water. In fact, one in three Pennsylvanians uses water treated with chloramine for cooking, bathing, cleaning and drinking.
Chloramine Facts vs Fiction
With its 100-year track record as a safe, effective disinfectant, chloramine is widely used by municipally run and privately owned water systems across the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, misinformation on the Internet and from other sources has created unnecessary confusion. Below are responses to commonly asked questions about chloramine, and check out the chloramine fact sheet.
Why does Pennsylvania American Water use chloramine for the disinfection process?
To comply with more stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, Pennsylvania American Water transitioned the water treatment disinfection practices at some of its facilities from chlorine to chloramine. We made the change to reduce the levels of disinfection byproducts that EPA has found to have known health risks. These byproducts are potentially harmful contaminants that form when chlorine reacts with organic compounds naturally present in our surface water sources of supply during the normal water purification process.
Compared to chlorine, chloramine produces substantially lower concentrations of the disinfection byproducts that the EPA regulates in drinking water. Prior to the federal regulations taking effect in 2012, we took a proactive approach to ensure that our water meets all public health standards.
How does the transition to chloramines affect our drinking water?
People use chloraminated water in all the same ways for drinking, bathing, cooking, cleaning and watering lawns and gardens. The only change that customers might notice is a reduced taste and odor of chlorine. If you prefer, products are available that reduce or remove chloramine, such as home treatment systems and water filters, which often contain certifications describing their effectiveness. We recommend that you visit the National Sanitation Foundation’s (NSF) Web site, where NSF provides information on in-home filters that remove chloramine and chlorine.
Please note that two groups of customers need to take special precautions: kidney dialysis patients and fish owners. For more information, visit Precautions for Dialysis Patients and Fish Owners.
How can we be sure that chloramination is safe?
For nearly 100 years, water systems across the United States and Canada have used chloramine without any ill effects. Every day, one in five Americans receive drinking water treated with chloramine, including residents in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Denver and Miami. Here in Pennsylvania, four million people, including people in York, Lebanon and Philadelphia, have been using tap water treated with chloramine for decades. That’s one out of every three people in Pennsylvania. In addition, Pennsylvania American Water has years of experience providing chloraminated water in community water systems, including Norristown, Clarion, Yardley, Butler, Ellwood City, Connellsville and Mechanicsburg.
Does chloramine increase the chance of lead poisoning due to leaching from household plumbing?
No. Proper corrosion control is always the key to reducing the risk of lead leaching, and Pennsylvania American Water has extensive experience in this field. In fact, when the Washington D.C. water system had issues with lead and a lack of proper corrosion control with chlorine – before it made the transition to chloramine, the EPA called our parent company, American Water, to help resolve the issue. Our environmental experts assisted Washington D.C. officials in developing the solution – a phosphate-based corrosion inhibitor.
Pennsylvania American Water practices corrosion control at all of its water treatment facilities, and is in compliance at all systems with the Federal and State Lead and Copper regulation.
Because wastewater treatment operators face strict Chesapeake Bay targets, did chloramination require Pennsylvania American Water to introduce new chemicals or higher levels of corrosion inhibitors, thereby increasing wastewater treatment costs to comply with the pending Bay regulations?
As stated above, no new additives or additional treatments were necessary for the transition in our water systems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Since 1992, Pennsylvania American Water’s facilities have practiced optimal corrosion control to meet federal lead and copper standards. Although phosphorus, which is one of the active ingredients in our corrosion inhibitor addition as some of our facilities is one of the targets in the Chesapeake Bay strategy, wastewater treatment plants are able to remove phosphorus either chemically or biologically.
The addition of ammonia has no major effect to sewage treatment plants. The chloramine residual formed at our treatment plants normally adds approximately 0.4 parts per million of total nitrogen to the water. Normal total nitrogen levels entering a wastewater plant are in the 20 to 40 parts per million range. Normal wastewater treatment processes lower the ammonia to very low levels.
Should the fact that Germany does not use chloramine raise concerns?
Although Germany stopped using chloramine years ago, the fact is that Germany and many European countries also banned chlorine for disinfection. What’s more, Germany does not require any continuing disinfection in its distribution system, unlike in the United States where a disinfectant residual must be maintained in the water main as an added layer of protection for consumers. So don’t be misled by Germany’s prohibition of chloramine since it imposes a similar ban on chlorine – not to mention the lack of any disinfection between German treatment plants and their customers’ homes.
Why doesn’t Pennsylvania American Water stop implementing this disinfection method until more research is done, since questions have been raised about chloramine?
Our primary concern is the public health and safety of our customers. This is the reason why our environmental experts closely monitor all water quality research, as does the rest of the water industry. No broad-based or nationwide research has found chloramination to be unsafe. We welcome and support ongoing research into the use of chloramine. However, the EPA widely accepts chloramine as a safe, effective treatment. If further research prompts the EPA to change its guidelines in the future on chloramine or related issues, we will adopt those new standards. But it is unknown how long such research would take, and what, if any, changes the EPA would make.
When a main break occurs with chloraminated water, what is the likelihood of a significant fish kill?
Both chlorine and chloramine are toxic to fish. Therefore, regardless of whether water is treated with chlorine or chloramine, water companies must react quickly when main breaks occur and employ best management practices to minimize the environmental impact on streams and rivers.
Should I be concerned about washing open wounds with chloraminated water?
No. Water disinfected with chloramine is no different than using chlorinated water to cleanse a wound. Virtually no water comes into direct contact with the bloodstream, so there is no harm.
Will chloramine adversely affect my swimming pool?
You should continue to treat your pool according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Test kits available at your local pool supply store can be used to measure the disinfectant concentration in the pool water. Contact your local pool supply store for additional details.
When it comes to gardening, will chloraminated water harm ornamental plants, vegetables, trees or shrubs?
No. The low levels of disinfectant in the water should not have any effect on plant life. The bacteria that contribute to plant growth live within the soil and are generally protected from chloramine concentrations by the soil layer. Soil will reduce or remove the disinfectant, thereby reducing its levels in the water that reach the plants.
What the Experts Say About Chloramine
Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, Associate Professor of Public Health, Medicine, Nutrition and Engineering Tufts University School of Medicine “The reports of adverse health effects of chloramine are both anecdotal, and at times biologically implausible.
“There continues to be confusion amongst some individuals as to the effects of monochloramine versus more complex chloramines, such as di-chloramine and tri-chloramine and other chemical species. However, no creditable evidence that chloramine (monochloramine), as used as a water disinfectant at recommended concentrations, has surfaced. Investigations by the Centers for Disease Control have not yielded any evidence of such adverse effects. In addition, no peer-reviewed papers or journal articles have been published in the scientific literature that would support the thesis that drinking water disinfection with chloramine has adverse health effects for humans.”
Mark Hartle, Chief Aquatic Resources Section, Division of Environmental Services Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission “Both free chlorine and chloramines are quite toxic to aquatic life. Consequently, both compounds are used effectively as disinfectants. Chlorine is toxic to many aquatic organisms at concentrations less than 1 part per million, and we find that slightly higher chloramine concentrations are necessary to produce the same level of toxicity.”
Jeff Hines, President and CEO York Water Company ”The York Water Company has been using chloramines since 1942. I have been with the company for 20 years and have never received any complaints related to chloramine. In fact, the only calls we get are from people who actually say the water tastes good, because they can't smell the chlorine."
Bernard Brunwasser, Water Commissioner City of Philadelphia Water Department: "Philadelphia made the switch from chlorine to chloramie over 30 years ago, because it is less corrosive, less odorous and more persistent through the 3,000 miles of Philadelphia's underground piping network and the plumbing of our customers' homes, thus protecting the water all the way to the tap."