The Hazards of Chlorinated Water

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I just finished writing this "Letter to the Editor" of our local paper, in response to an article about a chlorine gas tank that was not properly closed, causing a small leak that inspired the purchase of new monitoring equipment. This article was on the front page. I wonder somewhat if my response to it will even be printed. Regardless, here it is for your pleasure and education:

Dear Editor,

Upon reading your front-page article in this week's newspaper outlining the dangers of chlorine gas, I was somewhat flabbergasted that this dangerous substance is used to treat our drinking water. From the article:

"Chlorine is a highly toxic compressed gas. It is commonly used for purification and disinfection of drinking and swimming pool water, in the manufacture of disinfectants and cleaning products, and as a bleaching agent.

"Chlorine is highly irritating to the respiratory tract, and if inhaled can cause lung injuries and be fatal. When mixed with other substances, it can react violently or explosively, and forms dangerous chemicals when mixed with water."

Say WHAT?! It forms dangerous chemicals when mixed with water, yet we use it to treat the very water that we are expected to drink, cook with, and bathe in?!! I realize that this is used, not just in our municipality, but the majority of water treatment plants. My question is: WHY?

To answer this question, I started doing some research. Not surprisingly, chlorination is the cheapest method of sanitizing large amounts of drinking water. (Why is everything always all about the money?) Also, there is a residual amount of it left purposely in the water after leaving the treatment centre. (This is no surprise to anyone who has ever had a drink of municipal tap water--the chlorine taste is apparent immediately.)

However, the "dangerous chemicals" chlorine gas produces when mixed with water are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids, which are a byproduct resulting from the reaction of chlorine with organic matter such as skin particles, hair follicles, and water-borne bacteria, among other things. The alarming thing is that these are suspected carcinogens--and a certain number are allowed to remain in our water. Yes, it is at "low allowable levels," but if we had small amounts of urine left in our water, would we want to drink it? I think not.

So, not only is some toxic chlorine gas allowed to remain in our water, but carcinogenic THMs are also allowed to remain there.

From the article "Chlorine, Cancer, and Asthma: Oh, My! Why You Might Need A Water Filter":

Chlorine and Cancer
Chlorine and its byproducts are now known causes of three of the most deadly types of cancer: bladder, rectal, and breast cancer. When chlorine is added to water, it interacts with natural organic compounds in the water to form trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs are incredibly carcinogenic. Once ingested in the body, THMs encourage the production of free radicals. These free radicals are a major cause of abnormal/cancerous cell growth. Chlorine byproducts specifically affect the bladder and rectum (due to the amount of ingested water that is sent to these organs). Once cancer has infected these areas, it can quickly spread to more sensitive and/or vital organs. According to current statistics, bladder and rectal cancer account for 30,000 deaths in the United States each year.

In addition to its causal role in bladder and rectal cancer, chlorine is now being connected with cases of breast cancer. Breast cancer currently affects one out of every eight women, and it has become one of the deadliest, most damaging diseases women face. In a new study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut, breast cancer victims were examined in order to discover possible correlations between the different cases. While studying the women, researchers came across a surprising connection between cases. The results of the study indicated that women with breast cancer had between 50% to 60% higher levels of chlorine byproducts in their breast tissue as compared to women without breast cancer. These high levels of chlorine byproducts in breast cancer victims are hardly coincidental. Just as THM-created, free radicals damage and kill healthy cells in the bladder and/or rectum, they also damage and kill healthy cells in the breast tissue."

But wait. It gets better.

Chlorine, and it's byproduct-THMs, can not only aggravate, but actually cause asthma. Have you wondered why the number of asthma cases has skyrocketed in the last fifty years? The answer could be right in your tap.

A recent European study explored this connection by studying the effects of chlorinated swimming pool water on healthy school-aged children. The study found that chlorinated water can not only aggravate asthma, but actually trigger it. One of the three blood-markers being tested for in the study, surfactant-associated protein B, was found to increase in the same amount as those found in smokers in children with the highest pool attendance! (For more information, please see the online article at

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the same fumes that can trigger asthma symptoms from merely sitting by a swimming pool can also affect those who are taking a hot shower in chlorinated municipal drinking water. Every time I step into my shower or give my kids a warm bath the chlorine fumes are overpowering. So the chlorine in the water is a) being released as a toxic gas for me to breathe in, and b) combining with sweat, skin cells, and urine from my and my children's bodies to form carcinogenic THMs, which my 15-month-old, 3-year-old and 4-year-old blithely consume every time they pour their bathwater in their mouths (for I cannot get them to stop drinking it. They refuse.)

Although we have not drunk the municipal water for over a year, we still shower in it, brush our teeth with it, wash our hands in it, and are exposed to the chlorine gas being released from our dishwasher during the steam cycle. While chlorine filters are an option, why should entire communities be forced to add these to their home's water systems to protect themselves from something their taxes paid to put in the water in the first place? Especially when there are other water treatment options with far fewer negative side effects, such as Ozone treatment and UV Radiation treatment? Yes, these may cost more, but I think the price would be worth the gain--the health of an entire community.

After all, as Count Rugen says, "If you don't have your health, you haven't got anything."


Talena Winters

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  1. Good for you, Talena! Your response is very well written and I hope it finds its way into your paper. Keep us posted!

  2. YEEEAAAAHHHH for Talena!! Go get 'em girl!! I pray they listen to your well researched and logical reasoning, and DO something about it!!

  3. Wow. Makes me glad I'm back to drinking well water. Question - last year my roommates and I used a Brita. Would that have helped?

  4. Ikes. What should we drink and/or wash in then? Puddles are sounding gooder and gooder these days.

    My ex-mother-in-law came for a sleepover and I offered her bottled water. She wouldn't drink it saying that it causes her bladder to spasm and that tap water gives her no side effects. She also said that bottled water is not regulated in any sort of way and therefore...who knows WHAT kinda crap is in it.

    Can't do nuttin anymore, including breathe.

  5. Well said. It is nasty stuff! Ordinating the water supply has come done significantly in recent years, so one of the new treatment plants here (in Vancouver) is using this method.

    Unfortuantely, chlorination is here to stay. Everyone is jumping on the Co2 band wagon (which is non-toxic), so that means any other environment issue gets put out of the public radar.

    We ingest unnecessary toxins on daily basis - 100s of them. They come come from Teflon pans, carpets, sofas, food, cleaning products, etc. But we, as a society would rather risk stomach cancer than pay for food that is not "perfect."

    Ang - yes a Britta filters out chlorine (most of it).

    vicki - I wouldn't say bottled water is worse. The thing I don't like about bottled water is that plastic leeches into the water. Some worse than others, but all of it some pretty nasty cancer causing chemicals. By the way #7 plastic is one of the worse ones, and that is the one used in children's sippy cups.

    As far as the regulated tap water -what a joke. In other countries (including the US), if you want you water tested they turn on the tap and take a sample. But here in Canada, you run the water 3 minutes then take a sample. Apparently this is what your supposed to do every time you want a drink, because the lead and other heavy metals pool in your pipes when the water is stagnant.


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