Pena: Is chlorine in water safe?

THOSE of us who get their water from "nawasa" (a slang for water districts), we are used to the smell of chlorine. Chlorine is added to drinking water to disinfect it and kill germs. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, current studies indicate that using or drinking water with small amounts of chlorine does not cause harmful health effects and provides protection against waterborne disease outbreaks. However, a new study seems to debunk this claim.

Mixing drinking water with chlorine creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland. The researchers' findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The discovery of these previously unknown, highly toxic byproducts raises the question how much chlorination is really necessary.

Phenols, which are chemical compounds that occur naturally in the environment and are abundant in personal care products and pharmaceuticals, are commonly found in drinking water. When these phenols mix with chlorine, the process creates a large number of byproducts. Current analytical chemistry methods, however, are unable to detect and identify all of these byproducts, some which may be harmful and can cause long-term health consequences, says Prasse.

According to the study, one of these potentially toxic byproducts is 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, until this study, scientists had not detected in chlorinated water before.

The researchers, however, stress that this is a lab-based study and the presence of these novel byproducts in real drinking water has not been evaluated, the findings also raise the question about the use of alternative methods to disinfect drinking water, including the use of ozone, UV treatment or simple filtration.

We have always wondered why new types of diseases and cancer which are not common before are appearing today. This is probably because there are things that we use, eat or drink which were not thoroughly studied before, or the technology to study them doesn't exist yet at that time.

Lead for instance, a heavy metal, was only banned as an additive in paint in the late 70's in the United States due to health concerns. By the time it was banned, millions of homes have already been painted with it. In the Philippines, Lead in paint was only phased out for household use in 2016 and for industrial application in December last year. Lead was also used as an additive in gasoline until it was banned in 1996 in the United States and 2001 in the Philippines.

Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane or DDT, was developed as an insecticide in the 1940s, and was widely used during World War II to combat insect borne diseases. It was banned in the 70's after it was discovered that it causes cancer in laboratory animals. Other materials which were widely uses before but now are either banned or regulated are Asbestos and Teflon in non-stick pans.

My great grandparents died at ages 105 and 95. Is it because they are less exposed to chemicals, ate organic food and drank unchlorinated water?


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