Chloramine: Maintaining Water Quality in Southern California

Several recent news stories have been focused on the topic of water quality, relating to resources coming from public water supplies. Following the crisis in Flint, an uprising from communities, celebrities and even President Barack Obama to put a stop to the toxic water supplies reaching Americans in this small town has made headlines. Regardless of the fact that the United States has the safest drinking water in the world, the Flint scandal has left Americans nationwide questioning the safety of their own drinking water supply.

Related to water quality, there have been recent concerns over the use of chloramines to disinfect public drinking water supplies. Americans are being vigilant about how their drinking water is treated and the use of chloramine has raised some concerns.

In 1974, the United States Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act. The purpose for this law is to ensure safe drinking water for Americans. Across the nation, public water agencies are required to use disinfectants to reduce bacteria. Many agencies choose to use chloramines as a disinfectant.

What are chloramines? Chloramines are inorganic compounds, a combination of ammonia with chlorine. They have been used for over 100 years to protect drinking water supplies from bacteria, viruses and other potentially harmful agents that can be found in water. Chloramine, unlike chlorine stays longer in the water longer because it is more stable. This is a benefit, which ensures a higher level of protection against bacterial growth.

Chloramine use is not the only method for disinfection, but rather it is used because it maximizes disinfectant residuals in water distribution systems. Chloramines are less reactive with organic matter than chlorine, therefore are more effective in creating lower concentrations of disinfection byproducts in the water supply. Additionally, chloramine is able to minimize coliform bacteria growth and biofilm, a slimy buildup that develops inside pipes that can pollute drinking water.

In 1986, California enacted Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act to protect public water supplies and identify known cancer causing chemicals. Chloramine has not been identified as a cancer-causing agent. According to officials from the County of Riverside, there are no known records of any individual being harmed due to chloramine in the County.

In Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles Counties water agencies using chloramines differ. To research what disinfectants are used by your public water agency, review their consumer confidence report online. The switch to chloramines has taken place over past decades, starting in the 1930’s. Because chloramine does remain in the water supply, water containing chloramine should be treated before combining it with fish. Fish absorb chloramines from the water into their bloodstream through their gills, which can be harmful to aquatic life. Water containing chloramines should not be used in dialysis machines.