5 Reasons you should check your tap water for chloramines
These days, chloramines are becoming a much more popular technique for municipal water supplies to use for disinfection. Chlorine and chloramines are the most commonly used form of secondary disinfection. The EPA requires certain levels of secondary disinfectants to be present in order to keep the water safe for consumption as it travels through the pipes. Chlorine used to be used almost exclusively (which was fine by aquarium owners because it is pretty easy to remove) but as the EPA has rolled out more stringent requirements for reducing disinfection byproducts, (nasty things produced in the process of making the water safe) more and more water supplies have made the switch to chloramines which is more stable and intended to produce fewer disinfection byproducts. It is estimated that chloramines are used in 25% of households with a lot higher likelihood if you live in a large urban area. The following are five reasons as to why you should test to see if you are in the 25% or not.
1. Chloramines are toxic to your aquarium:
Chloramines are pretty nasty stuff to living organisms. After all, the point of adding it to the water is to kill bacteria and other organisms. The chloramines themselves are made up of chlorine and ammonia, some of which will break down to its two components. You don’t want either of these in your aquarium individually or combined! Chlorine is known to damage cells and interfere with the respiration of fish. Chloramines are toxic as well, entering the fish’s blood stream and interfering with their ability to maintain oxygen levels as well. Ammonia, a compound most people are familiar with, is responsible for “New Tank Syndrome”.
It is the same qualities of chloramines that make it so effective at killing bacteria that make it so toxic to the aquarium. In almost every municipality that uses chloramines you will find a special bulletin warning of chloramines’ toxicity to aquariums in particular and how special steps need to be taken. Sometimes these bulletins are mailed out (especially in areas where chloramines are just being introduced) or at the least on the municipalities website.
2. There is evidence that consuming chloramines is bad for you!
I know what you’re thinking; chloramines are added to our water supply to make it safer, how can they be bad for you? This is more of a conversation about the lesser of two evils. Chloramines (and chlorine) are added to water to keep the water free from things like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Legionella, and E.Coli. The EPA regulates the acceptable levels of these as zero. No detectable levels. In order to achieve this and keep the water this way, a secondary disinfectant must be added to the water. The secondary disinfectants have maximum allowable levels (4ppm for chloramines and chlorine) and long term exposure levels above 4ppm are known to cause eye and nose irritation, stomach discomfort and anemia. These secondary disinfectants also create a whole mess of other byproducts as they react with organics in the water. The EPA will tell you right off the bat that many of these byproducts are bad for your health; it is just that the benefits of killing things like E.Coli outweigh the risks of the byproducts. If you know you have chloramines you can take the correct measures (which are different than that of chlorine) to remove them from your drinking water if you so desired. More on this is mentioned below.
3. You may have other hobbies where chloramines may play a detrimental role.
I know keeping a reef tank takes a lot of time, but a lot of us have other hobbies as well. Many of these hobbies involve food, drink, or other animals. I myself am no baker, but there are a lot of folks out there who are. Many of them actually use mineral water in their bread. The concern is that the chloramine treated water may kill the yeast and keep the bread from rising.
As I said before, I am not a baker, however I do use those crafty unicellular organisms for a different hobby. Home Brewing! I know there’re a lot of fellow home brewers out there that also share both hobbies. What I don’t know, is if they are aware that chloramines can negatively impact the taste of their beer. While the boiling process usually removes most chlorine, it isn’t nearly as effective at removing chloramines. It adds a flavor that is commonly referred to as “Band-Aid” or “rubbery”. Not flavors I want in my beverage!
4. The techniques used for removing chlorine don’t work with chloramines.
As mentioned briefly in previous paragraphs, chloramines are much harder to remove than chlorine and the typical removal methods are not nearly as effective. Chlorine itself is quite volatile and will even gas off in a storage container over the course of a few days. It isn’t uncommon for folks who have chlorine in their water to just let a container of water sit for a few days before they mix salt in it, use it for top off, etc, to get rid of the chlorine. Chloramines remain much more stable, and while it would still gas off eventually you’re talking weeks or months instead of hours and days.
Chloramines are best removed by reacting with carbon. However, typical carbon blocks like those used for cleaning up tap water or even those in standard RO/DI units generally do a poor job at removing chloramines. Removing chloramines with carbon requires a lot of contact time (compared to chlorine) and the right types of carbon. Your typical RO system carbon block usually will not be very effective, nor will the typical filter/pitcher units you see. Having the right type of carbon blocks like those used in our BRS Chloramines RO/DI units will work significantly better (and if they happen to use chlorine in your water supply, they take care of that too).
5. It is so simple to do.
Honestly, when it comes to testing for chloramines, it is just so easy to do that there isn’t an excuse not to. If you want to take the super easy route, just call your water company or city hall. Almost for sure they will be able to tell you right off the bat. Want to look it up yourself? Go to the water company’s website and pull up a copy of the water report. It will list the average levels of residual chlorine or chloramine (they likely mail you a copy of this report every year as well).
If you prefer to test for yourself (which is also handy because you will know the actual concentration at your own location) you can go ahead and test the water for free chlorine and total chlorine. What you will find when you test is that chloramines will test fairly low in free chlorine (because the chlorine is bound to the ammonia) but high in total chlorine (because it is still there). The difference between the two numbers is the amount of chloramines. If the amount of free chlorine and total chlorine measure out to the same, it means your water supply just uses chlorine.
Free and total chlorine tests can be as fancy as a digital meter like the Hanna Checkers or a cheap simple test strip. The Hanna Checker is going to give you a nice and accurate digital readout which is great, but even the test strips will be enough to determine if you have chloramines.