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Chlorine - A Special Problem for Drinking Water

"There is increased evidence for an association between rectal, colon and bladder cancer and the consumption of chlorinated drinking water", this according to the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

Why Use Chlorine?

Chlorination is used extensively by municipal water treatment plants to disinfect water. However, the gaseous chlorine used by these plants is much too dangerous for home use. Household bleach (a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochlorite which is equivalent to 5% available chlorine) can be used for disinfecting drinking water (How to Super Chlorinate). When chlorine is fed into water, it first reacts with any iron, manganese, or hydrogen sulfide that may be in the water. If any residual (un-reacted) chlorine remains it will next react with any organic material (including bacteria) present. In order to ensure that the water remains protected throughout the distribution system, an excess of chlorine, usually .5 parts per million (ppm) is added. In large systems chlorine will be added again at distribution junctions. This "rate of feed" is normally adjusted to make sure that sufficient chlorine is available to fully react with the organics present. When both the mineral and organic reactions have been completed, any residual chlorine remains in the drinking water. Most people find the taste of water with residual chlorine to be objectionable but they do get used to it! Chlorination kills many pathogenic bacteria (including those which cause typhoid, cholera and dysentery), however cyst forming protozoa (Cryptosporidium) which cause amoebic dysentery, and giardiasis are extremely resistant to chlorination.

So What's the Problem?

Chlorine as stated above is a very effective disinfectant and has been used in drinking water supplies for nearly 100 years. What concerns health officials are the chlorination by-products, "chlorinated hydrocarbons,"known as trihalomethanes (THM's). Most THM's are formed in drinking water when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring substances such as decomposing plant and animal materials. Risks for certain types of cancer are now being correlated to the use of chlorinated drinking water. Suspected carcinogens make the human body more vulnerable through repeated ingestion and research indicates the incidents of cancer are 44% higher among those using chlorinated water.

To minimize the risks of using chlorine, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) adopted new regulations in November 1980, requiring cities to cutdown the chlorination by-products in water to a level not exceeding 100 parts per billion. Dr. Robert Harris, an environmental scientist and one of the three members of the White House Advisory Council, said that while this new reduced level is a beginning, but it still doesn't provide proper safeguards and should be strengthened. Dr. Harris recommended that citizens find out the current levels of chlorinated by-products in their drinking water and if necessary buy bottled water or home purifying systems. Yet, there is little likelihood that the use of chlorine will be discontinued since it is currently the MOST ECONOMICALLY acceptable chemical for bacterial control at this time.

It is ironic that chlorination, the very process by which we cleanse our water of infectious organisms, can create cancer causing substances from otherwise innocent chemicals in water. Cancers of the kidney, bladder and urinary tract are more common in certain cities than others; why? New Orleans takes its tap water from the highly polluted Mississippi River and adds chlorine in excess of government standards to insure protection against infectious diseases. Approximately 63 new carcinogenic compounds are created in Mississippi drinking water when chlorine combines with methanol, carbon disulphide, and other substances.

 

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WATER STUDY: CHLORINE POSES RISK IN PREGNANCY
John Heilprin The Associated Press. South Florida Sun - Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Jan 9, 2002.

Millions of Americans have been drinking tap water contaminated with chemical byproducts from chlorine that are far more than what studies suggest may be safe for pregnant women, two environmental groups say.

Chlorine is commonly used to disinfect drinking water. When it is added to water that contains organic matter such as runoff from farms or lawns, however, it can form compounds such as chloroform that can cause illness.

The study released Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group and Public Interest Research Groups identified areas that may have increased health risks, including miscarriage, neural tube defects and reduced fetal growth from women drinking chlorination byproducts.

"By failing to clean up rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water for hundreds of millions of Americans, EPA and the Congress have forced water utilities to chlorinate water that is contaminated with animal waste, sewage, fertilizer, algae and sediment," the report says.

Jane Houlihan, EWG's research director, said the report also shows how that cleanup failure has "a direct impact on human health." Pregnant women need to drink plenty of water, she said, but they can reduce their exposure to potential risks through simple measures such as home filters and purchasing bottled water.

However, C.T. Howlett Jr., executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council, said government agencies found no compelling link between reproductive hazards and chlorinated water.

He said chlorine has been added to drinking water for more than a century, and the environmental groups' study "may unnecessarily alarm the public and, in particular, pregnant women, about risks that are not supported by scientific evidence."

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency had no immediate comment. One expert on environmental health cautioned that the link between the byproducts and pregnancy risks is suggestive, not conclusive.

The environmental groups combed water quality records in 29 states and the District of Columbia and matched them with various research into birth defects and miscarriages conducted by state and federal agencies and universities.

The groups said the places statistically most at risk because of chlorination byproducts were those that are populous, lack buffers from urban sprawl and are downstream from agricultural sites. But women in small towns generally face twice the risk from drinking high levels of the byproducts, Houlihan said.

 

 

 

 

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Chlorine, Cancer and Heart Disease

"We are quite convinced, based on this study, that there is
an association between cancer and chlorinated water."
Medical College Of Wisconsin research team


The addition of chlorine to our drinking water began in the late 1800s and by 1904 was the standard in water treatment, and for the most part remains so today. We don’t use chlorine because it’s the safest or even the most effective means of disinfection, we use it because it is the cheapest. In spite of all our technological advances, we essentially still pour bleach in our water before we drink it. The long term effects of chlorinated drinking water have just recently being recognized. According to the U.S. Council Of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.”

Dr. Joseph Price wrote a highly controversial book in the late sixties titled Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine and concluded that nothing can negate the incontrovertible fact, the basic cause of atherosclerosis and resulting entities such as heart attacks and stroke, is chlorine.” Dr. Price later headed up a study using chickens as test subjects, where two groups of several hundred birds were observed throughout their span to maturity. One group was given water with chlorine and the other without. The group raised with chlorine, when autopsied, showed some level of heart or circulatory disease in every specimen, the group without had no incidence of disease. The group with chlorine under winter conditions, showed outward signs of poor circulation, shivering, drooped feathers and a reduced level of activity. The group without chlorine grew faster, larger and displayed vigorous health. This study was well recepted in the poultry industry and is still used as a reference today. As a result, most large poultry producers use dechlorinated water. It would be a common sense conclusion that if regular chlorinated tap water is not good enough for the chickens, then it probably is not good enough for us humans!

There is a lot of well founded concern about chlorine. When chlorine is added to our water, it combines with other natural compounds to form Trihalomethanes (chlorination byproducts), or THMs. These chlorine byproducts trigger the production of free radicals in the body, causing cell damage, and are highly carcinogenic. “Although concentrations of these carcinogens (THMs) are low, it is precisely these low levels that cancer scientists believe are responsible for the majority of human cancers in the United States“. The Environmental Defense Fund

Simply stated chlorine is a pesticide, as defined by the U.S. EPA, who’s sole purpose is to kill living organisms. When we consume water containing chlorine, it kills some part of us, destroying cells and tissue inside our body. Dr. Robert Carlson, a highly respected University of Minnesota researcher who’s work is sponsored by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, sums it up by claiming , “the chlorine problem is similar to that of air pollution”, and adds that “chlorine is the greatest crippler and killer of modern times!”

Breast cancer, which now effects one in every eight women in North America, has recently been linked to the accumulation of chlorine compounds in the breast tissue. A study carried out in Hartford Connecticut, the first of it’s kind in North America, found that, “women with breast cancer have 50% to 60% higher levels of organochlorines (chlorination byproducts) in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer.”

One of the most shocking components to all of these studies is that up to 2/3s of our harmful exposure to chlorine is due to inhalation of steam and skin absorption while showering. A warm shower opens up the pores of the skin and allows for excelerated absorption of chlorine and other chemicals in water. The steam we inhale while showering can contain up to 50 times the level of chemicals than tap water due to the fact that chlorine and most other contaminants vaporize much faster and at a lower temperature than water. Inhalation is a much more harmful means of exposure since the chlorine gas (chloroform) we inhale goes directly into our blood stream. When we drink contaminated water the toxins are partially filtered out by our kidneys and digestive system. Chlorine vapors are known to be a strong irritant to the sensitive tissue and bronchial passages inside our lungs, it was used as a chemical weapon in World War II. The inhalation of chlorine is a suspected cause of asthma and bronchitis, especially in children… which has increased 300% in the last two decades. “Showering is suspected as the primary cause of elevated levels of chloroform in nearly every home because of chlorine in the water.” Dr Lance Wallace, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Chlorine in shower water also has a very negative cosmetic effect, robbing our skin and hair of moisture and elasticity, resulting in a less vibrant and youthful appearance. Anyone who has ever swam in a chlorinated pool can relate to the harsh effects that chlorine has on the skin and hair. What’s surprising is that we commonly find higher levels of chlorine in our tap water than is recommended safe for swimming pools.

Aside from all the health risks related to chlorine in our water, it is the primary cause of bad taste and odor in drinking water. The objectionable taste causes many people to turn to other less healthful beverages like soft drinks, tea or other sweetened drinks. A decreased intake of water, for any reason, can only result in a lower degree of health.

The good news is that chlorine is one of the easiest substances to remove from our water. For that reason it logically should serve it’s purpose of keeping our water free from harmful bacteria and water borne diseases right up to the time of consumption, where it should then be removed by quality home water filtration.

No one will argue that chlorine serves an important purpose, and that the hazards of doing away with chlorine are greater than or equal to the related health risks. The simple truth is that chlorine is likely here to stay. The idea that we could do away with chlorine any time in the near future is just not realistic. It is also clear that chlorine represents a very real and serious threat to our health and should be removed in our homes, at the point of use, both from the water we drink and the water we shower in.

 

 

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IF SHOWERS CAN BE THIS BAD FOR YOU, JUST IMAGINE WHAT A DAY IN THE POOL WILL DO...

"Taking long hot showers is a health risk, according to research presented last week in Anaheim, California, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Showers - and to a lesser extent baths - lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contained in water supplies than does drinking the water. The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and can be inhaled by others. House holders can receive 6 to 100 times more of the chemical by breathing the air around showers and baths then they would by drinking the water." NEW SCIENTIST 18 SEPTEMBER 1986 Ian Anderson

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IS YOUR WATER SAFE TO DRINK?

"On one hand, chlorination has freed civilization from the constant dangers of waterborne epidemics. On the other hand in the mid - 70's scientists discovered that chlorination could create carcinogens in water." "80% of the population drinks chlorinated water." "There was a high incidence of cancer of the esophagus, rectum, breast and larynx and of Hodgkins Disease among those drinking chlorinated surface waters." "Volatile organics can evaporate from water in a shower or bath." "Conservative calculations indicate that inhalation exposures can be as significant as exposure from drinking the water, that is, one can be exposed to just as much by inhalation during a shower as by drinking 2 liters of water a day." "People who shower frequently could be exposed through ingestion, inhalation and/or dermal absorption." IS YOUR WATER SAFE TO DRINK? Consumer Reports Books