Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia that serves as a disinfectant for the water supply. It comes in three distinct forms: monochloramine (NHCl), dichloramine (NHCl2), and trichloramine (NCl3). These types are chemically linked and can be easily and quickly converted among themselves. Chloramine is a disinfectant that is not as effective as chlorine. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO, PDF 145 Ko) “Monochloramine is about 2,000 to 100,000 times less effective than free chlorine in inactivating E.coli and rotavirus.” It is not easily dissipated from chlorine. It remains in the water distribution system longer than chlorine and is difficult to dispose of through boiling or distillation. Chloramines are all respiratory irritants, trichloramine, disinfection by-products that form when organic matter in water combines with chlorine, being the most toxic.
Chloramine causes immune system issues and is completely incapable of killing pathogens in water. It is recommended that people with weakened immune systems boil water for a minimum of 10 minutes before using it to kill pathogens, otherwise, they run the risk of getting sick. At-risk individuals include children under six months of age, the elderly, people with chemotherapy, people living with HIV, and organ transplants.
Chloramine may cause and/or exacerbate respiratory issues. It causes sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing, suffocation, wheezing, shortness of breath, and asthma. Chloramine also has the potential to damage the lungs. Chlorinated steam from hot bathtub showers or dishwashers and other household appliances contains volatile chemicals that can be inhaled and cause respiratory irritation. The inhaled chlorinated vapor enters the bloodstream directly through the lungs and combines with hemoglobin (red blood cells) so that it is no longer able to carry oxygen.
A chemical’s risk of illness increases with increased exposure time and concentration. A study has shown an increase in deaths from influenza and pneumonia in communities using chloramine. Exposure to chloramine damages the lining of the lungs, making the lungs more vulnerable to allergens and infections. Because chloramine is a less effective disinfectant, it exposes people to a greater number of pathogens.
Chloramine can cause skin problems and severe skin reactions such as rash, dry or cracked itching, scarring, pigmentation, and stings. It may even exacerbate more severe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It can also cause bleeding of the lips, dryness of the mouth and throat, burning, redness, and dryness of the eyes. Skin exposure to ammonia “breaks down structural proteins in cells, extracts water from cells and triggers the inflammatory response, resulting in further damage.”
Chloramine damages the gastrointestinal lining and worsens gastrointestinal problems. Monochloramine causes stomach cancer.People with liver or kidney disease and those with genetic disorders of the urea cycle have an increased risk of ammonia poisoning by drinking chlorinated water, and dialysis patients can’t use chlorinated water on their dialysis machines because that will cause hemolytic anemia.
Chloramine filtration costs a lot of money compared to chlorine filtration. To remove chloramines, you need to use a broadband carbon filter followed by a reverse osmosis filter or a cationic filter (to remove ammonia). For high-flow applications such as showers, a whole home filtration system will be required to effectively remove chloramines and ammonia. To reduce THMs, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) offers alternative methods of disinfection, such as UV treatment and chlorine dioxide. The surest way to reduce HTMs, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is to remove the organic matter from the water by pre-filtration before disinfecting it with chlorine.