NEW YORK, 8 FEBRUARY 2010
Dear EarthTalk: I am very concerned about the amount of chlorine in my
tap water. I called my water company and they said it is safe just let the
tap run for awhile to rid the smell of the chlorine. But that just gets
rid of the smell, perhaps, not the chlorine?
Anita Frigo, Milford, Connecticut, USA
Thousands of American municipalities add chlorine to their drinking
water to get rid of contaminants like nitrates, arsenic and pesticides.
But this inexpensive and highly effective disinfectant has a dark side.
"Chlorine, added as an inexpensive and effective drinking water
disinfectant, is also a known poison to the body," says Vanessa Lausch of
filter manufacturer Aquasana. "It is certainly no coincidence that
chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First
World War." The gas would severely burn the lungs and other body tissues
when inhaled, and is no less powerful when ingested by mouth.
Lausch adds that researchers have now linked chlorine in drinking water
to higher incidences of bladder, rectal and breast cancers. Reportedly
chlorine, once in water, interacts with organic compounds to create
trihalomethanes (THMs) which when ingested encourage the growth of free
radicals that can destroy or damage vital cells in the body. "Because so
much of the water we drink ends up in the bladder and/or rectum,
ingestions of THMs in drinking water are particularly damaging to these
organs," says Lausch.
The link between chlorine and bladder
and rectal cancers has long been known, but only recently have researchers
found a link between common chlorine disinfectant and breast cancer, which
affects one out of every eight American women. A recent study conducted in
Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60
percent higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their
breast tissue than cancer-free women.
But don't think that buying bottled water is any solution. Much of the
bottled water for sale in the U.S. comes from public municipal water
sources that are often treated with, you guessed it, chlorine. A few
cities have switched over to other means of disinfecting their water
supplies. Las Vegas, for example, has followed the lead of many European
and Canadian cities in switching over to harmless ozone instead of
chlorine to disinfect its municipal water supply.
As for getting rid of the chlorine that your city or town adds to its
drinking water on your own, theories abound. Some swear by the method of
letting their water sit for 24 hours so that the chlorine in the glass or
pitcher will off-gas. Letting the tap run for a while is not likely to
remove any sizable portion of chlorine, unless one were to then let the
water sit overnight before consuming it. Another option is a product
called WaterYouWant, which looks like sugar but actually is composed of
tasteless antioxidants and plant extracts. The manufacturer claims that a
quick shake of the stuff removes 100 percent of the chlorine (and its
odor) from a glass a tap water. A years supply of WaterYouWant retails
for under $30.
Of course, an easier way to get rid of chlorine from your tap water is
by installing a carbon-based filter, which absorbs chlorine and other
contaminants before they get into your glass or body. Tap-based filters
from the likes of Paragon, Aquasana, Kenmore, Seagul and others remove
most if not all of the chlorine in tap water, and are relatively
inexpensive to boot.
CONTACTS: Aquasana, www.aquasana.com; WaterYouWant, www.wateryouwant.com.
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