If you get your water from the city or municipal water treatment plant, chances are good that it will have been disinfected with chlorine. This chemical has been used for over a century to kill bacteria and other germs in water, and it has no doubt saved countless lives that might have been lost to typhoid, cholera, and other waterborne diseases. The dangers of chlorine to the human body are well known, however, and chlorine in water has a number of health effects – particularly when it reacts to organic contaminants.
Public water utilities are carefully monitored, so you are not likely to suffer significant side effects from the chlorine in drinking water. Some of the most objectionable chlorine in water side effects are a noticeable smell or taste. The chlorine itself is usually in such a low concentration by the time it reaches your home that it's unlikely to make you sick. That said, many people report dry skin and hair after bathing in chlorinated water.
Most people know that chlorine is a common disinfectant for swimming pools, and there are a number of chlorine in water health effects that swimmers are familiar with. In addition to itchy skin and hair, people who swim in heavily chlorinated water may experience red, burning eyes and even difficulty breathing. Interestingly, one of the most common side effects associated with chlorine in water – green hair – isn't actually caused by the chlorine. Instead, it's heavy metals (particularly copper) in the water that turn your hair green.
While the chlorine in drinking water side effects may be relatively minor, the byproducts produced by this chemical when it reacts to organic material are of much greater concern. The biggest dangers of chlorine come from disinfection byproducts (DBPs) called trihalomethanes (THMs), of which there are four primary types:
Both chloroform and bromodichloromethane have been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as possible human carcinogens, which means that research indicates that they might cause cancer in humans. In addition to THMs, more than 600 other chlorine disinfection byproducts have been identified. These DBPs include haloacetic acids, chlorite, and iodoacetic acid, all of which may have negative health effects.
The WHO, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all conducted research on DBPs and the possible related chlorinated water side effects. The EPA has established standards for allowable amounts of total trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids in drinking water in the United States. Many water and health experts argue that there is really no acceptable level of these byproducts in water, however.
Clean, pure water is vital to human health. It keeps our bodies working correctly and efficiently, allows us to absorb vital nutrients from our food, and supports the elimination of toxins. Roughly 60% or more of our bodies are made up of water, so it's important that we have a regular source of clean water to stay healthy. Consider just some of the ways in which water is used in the human body:
There's no question that adding chlorine to water has saved many lives, and it's considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century. The chlorine in drinking water side effects are not nearly as serious as the risks of waterborne diseases, many of which can be deadly. That said, once the water has journeyed from the water treatment plant to your home, the disinfectant has done its job. At this point, the chlorine in water effects have the potential to do more harm than good.
Since we have the technology to remove chlorine from drinking water pretty easily, there's really no reason not to do so. Granulated activated carbon (GAC) filters are very good at removing not only chlorine from water, but also THMs, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and other chemical pollutants. Both whole house backwashing filters and whole house cartridge filters that use GAC are available, as are under sink water filtration systems that include carbon filters.