Monday, March 23, 2009

Chloramine to Be Used in More Local Water

More Pittsburgh-area residents may soon be drinking water treated with chloramine. The West View Water Authority recently notified customers that it will add chloramine during the summer months. The chloramine will replace chlorine, which can, especially in warmer weather, create byproducts linked to bladder cancer and reproductive problems. Pennsylvania-American Water customers in the Pittsburgh area may also soon have chloramine in their water. That utility recently received a construction permit related to the use of chloramine locally. Pennsylvania-American says customers will get three months' notice if and when chloramine is added.

Chloramine is created when chlorine combines with ammonia. And not everyone believes it's a better alternative. Chloramine creates its own byproducts, and some research has suggested that those byproducts are more toxic than the ones created by chlorine. Chloramine also corrodes lead and copper pipes, although many water systems add corrosion inhibitors. Chloramine also kills fish and cannot be used in dialysis machines without being treated first. Some people also believe that chloramine causes breathing and digestive problems.

Carnegie Mellon University Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jeanne VanBriesen says chloramine should not cause any public health problems at the concentrations it's used in drinking water. Chloramine has, though, caused what's known as "swimmer's asthma" in indoor pools. Chloramine is formed there when chlorine in the water combines with organic material on people's skin.

But VanBriesen says if your water provider is switching to chloramine, it's important to remember that the goal is to make the water safer. That was the same reason water providers first started adding chlorine to water in the early 1900s. VanBriesen says it was a huge advance because it greatly reduced water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid. It was only in the 1970s that researchers learned the addition of chlorine posed long-term health risks.

If you missed DUQ's earlier story on chloramine, you can listen to it here.

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