Chloramine is a drinking water disinfectant that may have side effects if consumed in excess. This glossary looks at chloramine’s use in water, including its potential health effects, how to tell if your water contains chloramine, and how to protect yourself from this chemical.
Table of Contents
- ❔ What is Chloramine?
- 🩺 What are the Potential Health Effects of Chloramine?
- 🚰 How Does Chloramine Get Into Drinking Water?
- 📉 Do Water Treatment Facilities Monitor Levels of Chloramine in Drinking Water?
- 🔎 How Can I Tell if Chloramine is in My Drinking Water?
- 👩🏽⚕️ How Can I Protect My Family from Chloramine in Drinking Water?
- ⚠️ How Else Can I Be Exposed to Chloramine?
- 📝 Where Can I Get More Information?
❔ What is Chloramine?
Chloramine is commonly formed when chlorine and ammonia are combined.
💡 Chloramine was first used to disinfect water in the 1930s (replacing the primary disinfectant, chlorine) and continues to increase in popularity today. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in five Americans drink water that has been treated with chloramine.
The purpose of chloramine is to kill harmful contaminants, like bacteria and viruses. There are multiple types of chloramines that may be used to disinfect water, including trichloramine, dichloramine, monochloramine, and organic chloramines. Monochloramine is most commonly used today.
Why do some public water facilities now use chloramine in place of chlorine or other disinfectants, like chlorine dioxide? There are a few benefits of chloramine: it’s more stable and lingers in water longer than chlorine, and it doesn’t produce as many disinfection byproducts. Plus, this secondary disinfectant doesn’t react with organic compounds, so it has less of an effect on water’s taste and odor. However, the fact that chloramine lingers in water for longer makes it more difficult than chlorine to remove.
|In Water As
|NH2Cl; NHCl2; NCl3
|Municipal drinking water disinfection
Contaminant Levels (MCLs)
|US EPA: 4.0 mg/L
|Potential Health Risks
|Increased asthma risk and respiratory problems
Aggravated digestive disorders
Denaturation of hemoglobin in the blood
Catalytic Carbon Filters
🩺 What are the Potential Health Effects of Chloramine?
There are a number of potential health effects associated with drinking or washing in elevated levels of chlorine:
- Dry, flaky, itchy skin
- Dandruff and dry scalp
- Dry lips, mouth, and throat
- Increased asthma risk and respiratory problems
- Aggravated digestive disorders
- Denaturation of hemoglobin in the blood
In low levels used for drinking water disinfection, chloramine shouldn’t have any health effects. However, some people with sensitive skin may still experience side effects from even low levels of chloramine in water. Home dialysis and dialysis centers users must also remove all chloramines from their water because disinfectant residual is dangerous in dialysis patients’ blood and may cause hemolytic anemia.
Additionally, chloramine is known to affect water’s chemical properties, increasing the risk of lead and copper leaching from water pipes. Even low levels of lead in water are dangerous, and drinking more than 0.3 mg/L of copper is also considered unsafe.
🚰 How Does Chloramine Get Into Drinking Water?
Chloramine isn’t found in the ground and is highly unlikely to be found naturally in drinking water supplies. Drinking water disinfection is the most common cause of chloramine in drinking water.
Some public water systems treat drinking water with chlorine, while others use chloramine. Your local Water Quality Report should tell you which disinfectant is used to treat your drinking water supply.
📉 Do Water Treatment Facilities Monitor Levels of Chloramine in Drinking Water?
Yes, water utilities monitor how much chloramine is added to water.
📌 The EPA’s maximum residual disinfectant level for chloramine is 4 mg/L. This is the recognized level that chloramine effectively controls pathogens without posing a risk to human health. Public water utilities must monitor and measure the amount of chloramine added to water to ensure there are enough chemical compounds to kill microorganisms in the water distribution system without producing health effects.
According to the CDC, drinking water treated with chloramine disinfection usually contains between 1.0 and 4.0 mg/L of chloramine. The CDC reports that the health effects of chloramine residuals usually don’t occur unless more than 50 mg/L of this chemical is found in public water systems.
Water chloramine levels are monitored carefully by your water treatment facility during the secondary disinfection process. The Environmental Protection Agency may request a report from any treatment plant at any time to ensure that water systems are complying with EPA standards.
Learn more about drinking water contamination in our complete guide.
🔎 How Can I Tell if Chloramine is in My Drinking Water?
Chloramine has less of a “swimming pool” taste than chlorinated water. However, you may still notice a chemical taste or smell from water treated with chloramine.
If you don’t want to rely on tasting or smelling chloramine in your water, you can find out for certain whether your public water system uses chloramine to treat drinking water. Request a copy of your Water Quality Report (or Consumer Confidence Report) or search for your report online.
Most water treatment systems use chlorine as a primary disinfectant, but your local facility may use chloramine to meet requirements for disinfection by-products. In your Water Quality Report, you should find a mention of which disinfectant is used to treat your water distribution system.
👩🏽⚕️ How Can I Protect My Family from Chloramine in Drinking Water?
Chloramine provides longer-lasting disinfection than chlorine, which means chlorine levels may drop away too early, while chloramine lingers.
This is a good thing – it means your water will be protected from microbiological contamination and bacterial regrowth until it reaches your home – but it does mean that this secondary disinfection chemical is more difficult to remove.
The best way to protect your family from chloramine in water is to install a water treatment system that’s capable of removing chloramine from your water.
The most effective water systems to remove chloramine are:
- Catalytic carbon filters – These use a coconut shell catalytic carbon filter cartridge with a large surface area to adsorb contaminants like chloramine. Catalytic carbon filters are most commonly found in whole home filtration systems, water pitcher filters, and water bottle filters. These filters are about four times more capable of removing chloramine than standard activated carbon.
- Reverse osmosis – The RO treatment process provides safe drinking water by removing virtually all dissolved solids, including chlorine and chloramine, disinfection byproducts, heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. RO systems treat drinking water with multiple filtration stages, including a sediment filter, a carbon filter, and a semi-permeable membrane. These systems are typically installed as countertop or under-sink point of use applications.
Removing chloramine from drinking water is safe. Your water won’t instantly take on the characteristics of untreated water as long as you store it in hygienic conditions or drink it straight away.
📌 Note that chloramine residual is considered safe to drink in low levels, but this secondary disinfectant is harmful to aquatic animals, so you’ll need to fully remove chloramine from your tap water before using it in fish tanks.
⚠️ How Else Can I Be Exposed to Chloramine?
Chloramine is predominantly used to treat drinking water, so your biggest exposure to this chemical will be in chloraminated water.
Some cleaning products contain chloramine as a bleach or oxidator. Check the ingredients of chemical cleaners before you buy them if you want to avoid breathing in chloramine gasses. Ideally, use natural cleaning products, like vinegar and baking soda.
Additionally, some occupations have an increased risk of chloramine exposure from the air, such as food industry facilities. According to Health Canada, salad and turkey processing plants have high total concentrations of chloramines in the ambient air.
Finally, chloramines are commonly used as disinfectants in swimming pools and hot tubs. Trichloramine is most commonly found in the atmosphere of swimming pools due to its low solubility and volatility.
📝 Where Can I Get More Information?
You can find more information about chloramine in water, including its uses and potential side effects, in the links below.
- WQA: Chloramine