Monday, January 21, 2013

More on Chloramine in Our Water

Steve Johnson from Flickr
As I posted back in October, since last year Pennsylvania American Water has been using chloramine, a compound of chlorine and ammonia, to disinfect the water it supplies to those of us living in southern Allegheny County and in Washington County. The use of chloramine raises a number of concerns, including the creation of dangerous disinfection by-products in our drinking water and the possibility of pipe corrosion, leading to elevated lead levels in our water.

A Pennsylvania grassroots organization, The Chloramine Information Center, has set up a useful website. They have collected a lot of valuable information and links to studies about chloramine.

CAN CHLORAMINE OR ITS BY-PRODUCTS BE REMOVED FROM OUR WATER?

There are water filters certified to reduce, but not remove, chloramine in drinking water. These filters are certified under NSF standard 42. However, no filters are certified to reduce or remove chloramine's potentially harmful disinfection by-products.

Further, the NSF does not certify any shower filters for chloramine removal or reduction. Interestingly, chloramine can be removed from water for bathing by dissolving Vitamin C in the bathwater. According to this website, 1000 mg. of Vitamin C in tablet or powder form will neutralize the chloramine in a medium-sized bathtub.

CHLORAMINE AND LEAD IN DRINKING WATER

The EPA acknowledges that chloramine can make water more corrosive, which can lead to pipe corrosion and an increase in the release of lead into water. Indeed, in a number of water districts, blood lead levels in children increased following a switch from chlorine to chloramine.

Plumbing installed before 1930 is most likely to contain lead. So, lead-contaminated water is a concern in homes built before that time. However, the use of lead solder with copper pipes in homes built after 1930 was widespread. According to the EPA, lead solder is considered the major cause of lead contamination of household water in the U.S.

Newer homes can also be at risk. A federal prohibition on lead in plumbing materials went into effect in 1986, but even "lead-free" fixtures, fittings, pipes and other materials can still contain up to 8 percent lead (this percentage will be reduced to 0.25 percent under a federal law to take effect in 2014). Lead solder can still contain 0.2 percent lead. Brass fixtures and fittings can leach significant amounts of lead into water.

 Testing for Lead

If you are concerned about lead in your drinking water for any reason, the only way to determine if your water contains harmful levels is to have it tested. Testing must be done by a qualified laboratory.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection certifies water testing labs. You can find a list of state-accredited labs on their website (scroll down to "Search Environmental Laboratories," there is a link for a PDF listing of accredited labs). There is also a search feature and when I ran a search for labs accredited to test for lead in drinking water the only commercial lab in Allegheny County that came up was  Microbac Labs in Warrendale.
  
 Minimizing Lead Exposure

If you are concerned about lead in your water, you can take these steps to minimize your exposure:
  1. Do not consume water that has been in contact with your home's plumbing for more than six hours.  Before using water for cooking or drinking, "flush" the cold water pipes by running the water until it is as cold as it will get, from 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Consume water from the cold-water tap only, never from the hot-water tap.  Hot water dissolves more lead more quickly than cold water.
Treating Water to Reduce Lead

A variety of water treatment options can reduce lead in drinking water. These options include reverse osmosis and distillation units, as well as certain types of carbon filters. To search for NSF-certified drinking water treatment units, go to this page and check "Lead Reduction" under the type of system in which you are interested. For example, this is a list of water filters certified to reduce lead under NSF standard 53.

There are many factors to consider in choosing a water treatment unit, including effectiveness, initial cost, cost of replacement filters, quantity of treated water produced, installation requirements, and maintenance requirements.

It is also critical to follow the manufacturer's instructions for replacing filters and maintaining the unit. No doing so could result in higher levels of contaminants being released into your water.


1 comment:

  1. Karen,

    I just found your blog and must say that I share your same concerns and desires. That's why I started a Pittsburgh-based company last year, with the aim of helping people create a toxic-free body, home, and planet.

    I currently sell vitamin-c based shower filters and bath tablets to combat the chlorine and chloramine found in our water supply. In addition to those I sell many other products for your home in the area of air purification, detergent replacements, water purification & alkalization, energy efficiency, and more.

    You can check out my site at www.alkalinepgh.com

    Steve

    ReplyDelete