This chemical is used in most countries to treat potable water, but how safe is it? We consume it daily and give it to our children, but what are the long-term effects and should we rely on the authorities to make these decisions for us? We consider these issues and more as we discuss the facts about using chlorine to treat tap water. The practice of using chlorine to treat water began in the late 1800s, and by 1904 became a standard in water treatment and is still in use today. Chlorine isn’t the safest or most effective means of water disinfection, but it is one of the cheapest, and the long-term effects of chlorinated drinking water are becoming recognized. Bygone research has indicated that the consumption of chlorinated water may be a contributor to cancer, however, there is no conclusive data that supports this. So, how safe is our tap water?
Dr Joseph Price wrote a highly controversial book in the late sixties titled Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine and concluded that the basic cause of atherosclerosis and resulting entities such as heart attacks and stroke, is chlorine. Dr Price reported using chickens as test subjects in one of his studies where two groups of several hundred birds were observed until maturity. One group was given water with chlorine and the other without. The group raised with chlorine, when autopsied, supposedly showed levels of heart or circulatory disease in every specimen, yet the group without had no incidence of the disease. The group with chlorine under winter conditions showed outward signs of poor circulation, shivering, drooped feathers, and a reduced level of activity, while the group without chlorine grew faster, larger, and displayed more vigorous health.
When chlorine is added to water, it combines with other natural compounds to form chlorination by-products called Trihalomethanes or THMs which trigger the production of free radicals in the body causing cell damage. The Environmental Defence Fund issued a warning stating “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.” Dr Robert Carlson, a highly respected University of Minnesota researcher sums it up by saying “the chlorine problem is similar to that of air pollution … chlorine is the greatest crippler and killer of modern times!”
Chlorine and Breast Cancer
Breast cancer has recently been linked to the accumulation of chlorine compounds in the breast tissue, and according to a study carried out in Hartford Connecticut, found that “women with breast cancer have 50% to 60% higher levels of organochlorines (chlorination by-products) in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer.”
One of the most unexpected study results is that much of our harmful exposure to chlorine is due to inhalation of steam and skin absorption while showering. The steam we inhale while showering can contain up to 50 times the level of chemicals than tap water, as chlorine and many other contaminants boil at a lower temperature than water. Inhalation is a much more harmful means of exposure since the chlorine gas (chloroform) we inhale is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, and the inhalation of chlorine is a suspected cause of asthma and bronchitis, especially in children. “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.
Removing Chlorine from Water
In the absence of any other option, chlorine serves an important purpose and the idea that we could do away with it any time in the near future is just not realistic. It is also clear however that using chlorine to treat water represents a very real threat to our health and should be removed at the point of use. The good news is that chlorine is one of the easiest substances to remove from our water. For that reason, it can continue to serve its 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 a quality home water filtration system.