Chlorine: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Chlorine is a disinfectant chemical added to municipal drinking water to eliminate the growth of bacteria and viruses. It is believed that the addition of chlorine to our drinking water has significantly decreased the incidence of water-borne illnesses; however, it does not come without costs.
Inside the human body, chlorine reacts with water to form acid, altering the body’s pH, affecting the health of our cells, and destroying any of the good bacteria in our digestive tract that help us digest our food and play an important role in our immunity. Trihalomethanes (THM), such as chloroform, are dangerous by-products of chlorine that are made when chlorine reacts with organic matter (i.e. decaying leaves), which are naturally present in water. Inside the body, these chlorine by-products trigger the production of harmful free radicals, which can result in significant cell damage. It has been estimated that 14-16% of bladder cancers in Ontario may be attributed to drinking water which relatively high levels of chlorine by-products.
Lab animals exposed to very high levels of THMs have an increased risk of cancer. Several studies on humans have also found a link between long-term exposure to high levels of chlorination by-products and a higher risk of cancer. For instance, a recent study showed an increased risk of bladder and possibly colon cancer in people who drank chlorinated water for 35 years or more.
High levels of THMs may also have an effect on pregnancy. A California study found that pregnant women who drank large amounts of tap water with high THMs had an increased risk of miscarriage. These studies do not prove that there is a link between THMs and cancer or miscarriage. However, they do show the need for further research in this area to confirm potential health effects.”
– From the Health Canada Website (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/chlor-eng.php)
Chemicals, Hormones, and Drugs
Investigators are finding a large number of contaminants in our surface and groundwater. Pesticides, hormones, detergents, antibiotics, and both prescription and non-prescription drugs are being found in our water supply. High levels of estrogen from birth control pills or hormone replacement drugs, antidepressants such as prozac, and chemotherapy drugs, etc., are being found in our water supply. Some of these are from pills being disposed of in the toilet, but also because they are not completely metabolized by the body and are making their way into the environment through the urine of people taking them. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to deal with these sorts of chemicals, therefore they make their way untreated into our drinking water. So if your neighbour is taking prozac, now you may be too!
What can you do?
In order to effectively eliminate exposure to chlorine, metals, chemicals, hormones, etc in your drinking water, it is essential to have some additional form of filtration in your house. Many people buy bottled spring, reverse osmosis, or distilled water, however this can be expensive and as a result of the increase in bottled water, our landfills are overflowing with plastics. Below is a quick description of some common water treatment options:
- Carbon filters (i.e. Brita, etc) are effective at removing chlorine, sediment, and volatile organic compounds (gasoline, solvents, paints, etc). from water. They are not effective at removing bacteria, minerals, heavy metals, or other compounds.
- Spring water is water that is derived from a natural spring flowing underground. Spring water is groundwater that undergoes minimal treatment. With increasing contamination of our groundwater supplies, this may not be the best option for clean drinking water.
- Reverse osmosis treatment of water is effective for the removal of bacteria and pathogens, but it also removes the trace minerals and salts that are necessary for human health. RO treatment does not effectively remove pesticides, hormones, or other chemical contaminants.
- Distilled water removes many bacteria, metals, and some chemical compounds, but also strips the water of all minerals, including essential trace minerals that are required for human health. It only selectively removes pesticides, and other chemicals, and is not effective against antibiotics, hormones, drugs, etc.
The best option would be to install a water filtration system in your home that would remove chlorine, chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, etc. However these types of systems can be quite expensive.
A more inexpensive option would be to purchase a countertop filtration system such as the Santevia Enhanced Water System, which provides 8 levels of protection against contaminants, as well as alkalizes the water to ensure that your cells are getting the best quality water that it can.
Don’t Forget the Shower!
We are exposed to just as many, if not more, chemicals in the shower as we are with our drinking water. Warm water opens the pores, allowing the chlorine and other contaminants to enter into the skin. Inhaling steam from chlorinated water is even more damaging than drinking water, as the chlorine gas and other volatile chemicals enter into our lungs and then directly into our blood circulation (when we drink chlorinated water, some of it is filtered out through the kidneys before it goes into the bloodstream). Bathing in chlorinated water can cause dry skin and breathing difficulties (i.e. asthma) for many people.
If you don’t have a system that filters the water to your entire house, you can purchase a carbon water filter for your shower for between $25-50 at a store like Canadian Tire.