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Chloramine in Los Angeles water makes a bad situation worse

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Continuing on from the recent examination of potentially lethal parasites in water, both outdoors and in plumbing, the issue of what else is in our water needs to be checked into. For customers of the LA Department of Water and Power, an insert in the latest billing (for those receiving paper bills) informs them of the increased addition of a chemical in the system. Chloramine—a substance derived from the combination of chlorine and ammonia—has been, and continues to be, put in the water used and ingested by Los Angeles residents. This additive, in substitution for chlorine, is gradually being introduced to local water users across the region served by the LADWP. The purpose is to disinfect the water before use. Supposedly, by replacing chlorine with chloramine, residents will be happier and healthier, by not having that chlorine smell so many object to when turning on a tap. See www.ladwp.com/waterquality for an article titled “Chloramine Disinfection City-Wide Expansion.”

Not so fast, LADWP—first of all, the nauseating stench that comes from the faucet, or that is present in swimming pools, is not even from chlorine. It comes from chloramine! The vapors of this chemical are stronger in odor, are less easily dissipated or removed, and is extremely difficult to extract from water. Not by boiling, filtering or even distilling can you be rid of chloramine. The fumes may therefore accumulate far more easily than those of chlorine.

Another fact is that, while chlorine has been found to be carcinogenic, few studies have been done on chloramine. What is known is that in some experiments performed on small rodents such as mice, rats and hamsters, there has been evidence of reproductive cancer in females. Considering that in many instances where this kind of result has come from testing on lab animals, the substance under test has been banned, why should we accept chloramine being thrust upon the public?

Chloramine also has this nasty characteristic of breaking down after a short time, such as a day or two, into other compounds, namely (after beginning as monochloramine) dichloramine and trichloramine. The compounds’ toxicity increases with the breakdowns, with dichloramine being worse, then (when it eventually reaches this stage) trichloramines being the most toxic. These substances are all known to be very irritating to the eyes, lungs, and mucous membranes, including those of the gastrointestinal system.

After chloramine has deteriorated into the above three chemicals, it can form dangerous disinfectant byproducts known as trihalomethanes (THMs). This occurs when chloramine combines with organic matter in the water. When used as a disinfectant, it can be fully expected to come into contact with such substances, as its purpose is to render them harmless. Instead, THMs are the result, and they are suspected (but again, little testing has been done so far) of being a carcinogen.

Chloramine is known to be a hazardous substance, often triggering asthma and other respiratory ailments (see http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/0359.pdf). Prolonged exposure and even accumulation of congestion from its fumes may produce pulmonary edema. When contacted externally, chloramine is liable to cause severe skin rash, even sometimes burning of tissue. The eyes, as well, may be damaged by the fumes of this chemical. Those suffering from liver or kidney disease are particularly at risk from exposure to chloramine. It cannot be used for a kidney dialysis machine; hemolytic anemia would result. For a thorough explanation of this predicament, this article explains the process: ndt.oxfordjournals.org/content/14/11/2579.long. An expensive and lengthy process for filtration of such water must take place before use in these machines.

Other problems that can be caused by this water additive are increased chances of mold growth, thus initiating another severe health danger. Additionally, chloramine can leach lead out of plumbing pipes, which will, in turn, cause poisoning of those using it.

All in all, communities such as Los Angeles are making a terrible mistake in switching to chloramine use. Despite all the feel-good reassurances included in the bills, and their website’s further proclamations of how wonderful this will make the local water, the truth is the opposite. Sure, chlorine is no prize-winner but chloramine is not only less effective in killing pathogens such as E. coli (see the World Health Organization’s findings: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/S04.pdf), it is downright hazardous to all who use it. It’s bad enough we have a lack of water here, why make what we do have even worse?

For further information on chloramine and its properties and effects on human health, go to this site: http://www.chloramine.org/chloraminefacts.htm

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