Like most municipalities around the country, Houston draws its water from local lakes, rivers, and streams – primarily the San Jacinto River (Lake Conroe & Lake Houston) and the Trinity River (Lake Livingston). Because the water in those lakes contains germs, bacteria, and other organisms that can make people sick, municipal water systems will add a disinfectant—usually either chlorine or chloramine (or a combination of both) —that kills disease-causing germs such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and norovirus.
While drinking or ingesting a disinfectant may sound like an unsafe thing to do, municipalities do carefully regulate their use. Indeed, chlorine or chloramine levels up to 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L or 4 parts per million (ppm)) are considered safe in drinking water, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Sometimes, however, the concentration of chlorine or chloramine can rise beyond legal or safe health-related standards. In these cases, it’s best to remove the heavy concentrations with water filtration (such as the reverse osmosis systems we offer at Houston Water Solutions.)
Chlorine or Chloramine: What’s the Difference?
Many people are familiar with chlorine, which is the basic disinfectant used in swimming pools. And chlorine has long been the most common disinfectant used by municipal water systems. Chloramine, on the other hand, is simply a chemical variant of chlorine (basically adding ammonia to the already chlorinated water.) Many water systems over the last few decades have steadily begun switching over to chloramine for a few primary reasons:
- It stays active in the water longer than chlorine (hence it can disinfect more)
- It is milder, so it doesn’t have the chlorine taste and odor you can get from some water systems.
- It produces fewer disinfection by-products than chlorine – something the EPA has sought to reduce in drinking water.
For more than 30 years, Houston water systems have used a combination of both chlorine and chloramine. But in 2009, Harris County switched over to its primary disinfection method from only chlorine to greater use of chloramine for many of the reasons above.
That said, chloramine is not without its drawbacks as well:
- Kidney dialysis patients need to exercise caution. Chloramines are particularly harmful to kidney dialysis patients, as they can go directly into the bloodstream and can cause a condition known as hemolytic anemia if the disinfectant is not completely removed from the water that is used for the dialysate.
- Chloramines are toxic to fish. If you have a fish tank, it’s important to make sure that the chemicals or filters that you are using are designed for use in water that has been treated with chloramines.
- Chloramines tend to be weaker as a disinfectant. Though they last longer in water, they tend to be less effective against viruses or protozoa than free chlorine.
- Chloramines can also do more damage to copper and lead-soldered pipes. Chloramines are corrosive meaning that they can lead to the leaching of copper and led pipes (if piping is not properly insulated). This can cause not only health damage to humans but also mold and other problems that will mean your pipes need to be replaced.
What Should You Do About Chloramine?
Most levels of chloramine are safe, though stomach discomfort or anemia can occur in cases where you drink water containing chloramines well in excess of the CDC guidelines. And, similar to chlorine, some irritation can occur if it gets in your eyes and nose.
If you do want to remove any remaining chloramine in your water – after all, it’s already done the work to disinfect the water that’s been brought to your home – you can easily do so with a reverse osmosis system that can be installed under your sink. With its multi-stage filtration process, RO systems remove chlorine and chloramine with its slow flow rate – especially those systems that employ a multi-level activated carbon filter before the actual reverse osmosis filter/membrane.
Want to get started? Ask for a free water quality analysis from us! We’ll send a technician to your home and analyze your water for contaminants and hard water deposits. Then, we’ll get you the results fast and recommend the right solution for you.