HOUSEHOLDS across the USA and other countries where tap water is heavily chlorinated may be drinking a potential health-threatening toxic and carcinogenic cocktail of chemicals sparked by chlorine use, according to recent research. A study from one of America’s top research universities underscores the lack of research into the unintended health consequences of chlorine interacting with other chemicals finding their way into tap water, says Bluewater, a global specialist in water purification technologies.

What researchers say

Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as in Switzerland, said their study, recently published in the science journal Environmental Science & Technology, indicates mixing drinking water with chlorine, one of the world’s most widely used methods of disinfecting water, creates previously unidentified by-products that could be ‘toxic and carcinogenic’.

chlorine in water

Image Credit: Marissa Lanterman / Johns Hopkins University

“Chlorination has undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of people around the world from diseases such as typhoid and cholera. Yet worryingly little is known about the health consequences sparked by the chemical cocktail created when chlorine mixes with other chemical compounds found in drinking water,” said Bluewater PR and Communications Director Dave Noble.

He noted how the scientists behind the Johns Hopkins study concluded that the discovery of previously unknown, highly toxic by-products raises the question of how much chlorination is necessary.

The lab-based study involved chlorinating water using the same methods used commercially for drinking water. The team added amino acid, let the water incubate for one day, and then used mass spectrometry to detect and analyze the chemicals in the water.

Their experiment found the compounds 2-butene-1,4-dial (BDA) and chloro-2-butene-1,4-dial (or BDA with chlorine attached). BDA is a very toxic compound and a known carcinogen that scientists had not earlier detected in chlorinated water.

The paper’s lead author Carsten Prasse, assistant professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University, said current analytical chemistry methods “are unable to detect and identify all of these by-products, some which may be harmful and can cause long-term health consequences.” He noted one reason regulators and utilities are not monitoring these compounds is that they don’t have the tools to find them.

Mr. Prasse called for the development of new analytical techniques that allow ‘us to evaluate the formation of toxic disinfection by-products when chlorine or other disinfectants are being used’. He said more research was needed into chlorination alternatives such as ozone, UV treatment, or simple filtration.

Plastics pollution posed the #1 threat to human kind

In a 2019 White Paper, Bluewater and the Lisbon-based Mirpuri Foundation concluded that plastics pollution posed the #1 threat to human kind because of the way it contributes to the release of so-called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDC’s, into the natural environment. EDC’s block the way hormones function naturally, triggering abnormal development and illnesses ranging from stunted fertility and male/female sex malformations to obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart attacks.

Chlorine has been banned from drinking water

In the Netherlands alternative technology was developed to make Chlorination obsolete, therefore Chlorine has been banned for drinking water use since 1974.

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