Activated carbon filtration is one method of chloramine removal.
Drinking water concerns continue to escalate in the U.S., with news of lead, chloramines and other contaminants in water supplies putting Americans on high alert about their drinking water. For many residents in Texas and other parts of the Southwest, chloramines have become a top concern.
Thankfully, chloramines can be reduced effectively by various filtration technologies, such as activated carbon.
What Are Chloramines?
Drinking water is treated long before it reaches a household—oftentimes with chemicals to ensure parasites, bacteria and viruses are eliminated. Public drinking water systems traditionally have used chlorine to remove contaminants, but it dissipates quickly. Water treatment plants needed to find a more effective, less expensive way to clean the water, so in the 1930s, water utilities turned to chloramines—the combination of chlorine and ammonia. Chloramines often are referred to in the plural because they can take on a number of forms depending on the pH and mineral content of the water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than one in five Americans uses water treated with chloramines.
Consumer Safety Concerns
Shortly after treatment plants switched from chlorine to chloramines, consumer safety questions arose. Numerous studies are being conducted to determine if the use of chloramines is as beneficial as once believed. Researchers are testing two key factors: the effectiveness of ammonia, since it is a food source for bacteria that may cause more bacteria to grow than it eliminates; and the corrosiveness of chloramines when they travel through lead and copper pipe. This article will examine the health risks of chloramines, detection methods and residential treatment methods.
Negative Effects of Chloramines
Health risks of chloramine consumption are well documented. Most notably, chloramines cannot kill pathogens in water, which causes increased health risks for people with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems, like the elderly and children. Prolonged exposure to chloramines can result in skin problems such as dryness, rashes, itching, pigmentation issues and cracking. Chloramines are not currently listed as a serious health concern for humans, but their removal is essential to improving the taste and odor of drinking water.
In addition to the potential risks for humans, chloramines pose a threat to animals. Chloramines are toxic to fish, amphibians and water-based reptiles. Households with fish tanks should use proper methods to remove chloramines to ensure the health of their fish.
Businesses that use large amounts of water to make their products, such as microchip manufacturers, medical supply manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, breweries, restaurants and photo labs, need to have a proper treatment system installed to remove chloramines, as they could damage products during manufacturing or cause health issues for employees or customers.
Chloramine Detection & Removal
The first question most people ask is, “How do I know if chloramines are in my water?” The easiest way for consumers to research their water supply is to a request a consumer confidence report. These reports outline the levels of contaminants that have been detected in the municipality’s water supply over a certain time period and show how those levels compare with EPA drinking water standards. Water treatment professionals also should offer residential water testing, which can help close the sale of a point-of-use (POU) treatment system.
Once it is confirmed that chloramines are in the water supply, the next step is determining proper removal. The most common treatment method is a carbon filter designed for chloramine removal, usually made from charred and activated coconut or wood. These filters generally come in two basic forms: a rigid block made from powder activated carbon and a food-grade adhesive or binder; or a shell filled with granular activated carbon (GAC). The main difference between the two is that a carbon block offers added mechanical separation, whereas GAC does not.
Chloramines are removed from water in much the same way as chlorine; however, chloramines require more contact time with the activated carbon’s porous surface. Unlike mechanical filtration, the carbon surface actually adsorbs the chlorine or chloramines rather than mechanically separating it. Once a carbon filter’s useful life has been exhausted, the filter will no longer remove the chlorine or chloramines, so it is important for consumers to regularly replace their carbon filters.
Another common method to remove chloramines from water is a POU reverse osmosis (RO) system. It is important to use a multi-stage RO system that includes a chlorine/chloramine filter as a prefilter to the RO membrane. Chlorine and chloramines can degrade the membrane in an RO system, rendering it ineffective. The damage is caused by the dissociation of chloramines into ammonia and chlorine. The use of a prefilter designed for chloramine reduction will significantly increase the life of the RO membrane and the quality of the water. Unlike a carbon filter, RO systems remove a high degree of total dissolved solids from the water, as well as many other contaminants such as lead and bacteria.
In addition to drinking water, consumers often are concerned about the presence of chloramines in the bath or shower. Many showerhead filters are not effective for chloramine removal due to the large volume of water going through the showerhead and the increased flow rate. Should a customer want to remove chloramines in the bath or shower area, a water treatment professional should recommend a whole-house filtration system that uses filters like those outlined above.
Always use reputable manufacturers that design their products for specific contaminant reduction. Certification bodies like NSF Intl., the Water Quality Assn. and UL offer certifications for products to NSF standards for water filtration. Consumers should seek products certified to NSF standards for the removal of chemicals such as chlorine and chloramine. It is imperative that water treatment professionals seek out manufacturers that perform in-house testing or have third-party testing data that prove the filter’s chloramine reduction capabilities.