23 February 2012

Effects of Chlorine in Water

It all started more than a century ago in 1904 in New Jersey, America, where drinking water was chlorinated for the first time. Backed by the initial euphoria of the government, chlorination was able to effectively decrease water born diseases such as Typhoid, Cholera and Dysentery by killing the bacteria.

The method of ensuring safe drinking water was quickly adopted and spread like a wild fire to other countries of the world including India, becoming the integral part of the standard disinfection procedure for the treatment of Municipal drinking water.

Nowadays, chlorine is injected into drinking water by two ways: It is either injected directly by bubbling chlorine gas into the reservoir of drinking water or it is induced by adding calcium hypo chloride (Bleaching powder) to water. In India, this chlorination is achieved by following the latter method, which reacts with water liberating free chlorine in it. The chlorine in water is extremely reactive and quickly kills the bacteria and other living micro-organisms, thus disinfecting the drinking water.

However, the residual free chlorine present in the water is highly reactive and reacts with the organic matter naturally present in the water to form highly Carcinogenic (cancer causing) Organo Chloro Carbons and Tri Halo Methanes (THM's) which are notorious for their mutagenic and carcinogenic properties even in trace amounts like 5-10 ppb (parts per billion).

The EPA (Environment Protection Agency) and WHO initially set the acceptable limit of THM's in drinking water to around 100 PPB but questions were raised against the authenticity of the limit, so it was quickly decreased to around 80 PPB.

The point to be noted is that naturally present organic matter in rivers streams and ponds is harmless till it becomes carcinogenic (cancer causing) after reacting with chlorine.

Chlorinated water can also destroy polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E in the body while generating toxins capable of radical damage. These chemicals, known as organochlorides, do not degrade very well and are generally stored in the fatty tissues of the body (breast, other fatty areas, mother's milk, blood and semen). These can cause mutations by altering DNA, suppress immune system function and interfere with the natural controls of cell growth, leading to incidence of breast cancer and bladder cancer.

There is increased evidence of an association between rectal, colon and bladder cancer and the consumption of chlorinated drinking water. Suspected carcinogens make the human body more vulnerable through repeated ingestion and research indicates the incidence of cancer is 44 per cent higher than other cases.
Chlorine has also been documented to aggravate asthma, especially in those children who swim in chlorinated swimming pools. Several studies also link chlorine and chlorinated by-products to a greater incidence of bladder, breast and bowel cancer as well as malignant melanoma. One study even links the use of chlorinated tap water to congenital cardiac anomalies.

India ranks at the top in heart diseases, thanks to chlorine which is the second contribution factor, the first being edible oil adulteration by animal fats (trans fatty acids) which are extracted from dead and rotting animals and added to vanaspati and ghee. Removing vanaspati, ghee and chlorinated drinking water from the diet will eliminate over 85% of heart disease in India.

Further, in the Indian context, there is no strict protocol like that given by EPA and WHO and bleaching powder is just dumped in to the water tanks by the illiterate gatekeepers or the watchman. This compounds the problem in case of the rainy season, when the water is muddy and high in organic matter. Dangerously high levels of chlorine are added to overcome the spread of diseases resulting in high THM'S characterised by their peculiar pungent and nasty odour and taste.

Lastly, in emergency situations, the tap water can be boiled and excess chlorine would be removed. However, this process would not remove the thermostat chloro carbons.

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