Chloramination of Drinking Water May Release Lead

Water faucetConcerns are surfacing over the possiblity of unsafe drinking water in areas across the U.S. that have switched from chlorination to an alternative water-disinfection technology: chloramination. 

From 2001 to 2004, lead concentrations spiked in many children living in the nation’s capital after the local water authority altered the treatment used to disinfect their drinking water.  In a recent article in ScienceNews.org, “About seven-and-a-half years ago, the District of Columbia’s water authority switched from chlorination to an alternative water-disinfection technology: chloramination. The goal had been to reduce the potentially carcinogenic by-products of chlorination that developed in drinking water. And the substitution worked. However, an unintended consequence of this improved disinfection technique was the sudden release of copious amounts of lead into the drinking water that serves the nation’s capital.”

A leading water expert, Marc Edwards, argues that the drinking water situation in DC mirrors what is occurring elsewhere around the nation, if not the world. Marc Edwards, of Blacksburg, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in the causes and control of copper and lead erosion in drinking water. 

Excessive lead in drinking water affects children more than adults, although adults can be significantly sickened as well.  The developing neurological system in children is easily susceptible to lead toxicity, and it can give rise to lower IQ, attention deficits, hyperactivity, weak executive control, and antisocial behavior.  Two recent studies have found that adults with high levels of lead in childhood not only showed signs of brain damage but were far more likely to be arrested in later years for violent crimes.  In fact researchers are discovering that our current prisons have a very high percentage of inmates with signs of childhood lead toxicity. 

Boiling the water or letting it sit out in an open container at room temperature will not effectively get rid of the residual chloramine and this can actually increase the lead concentration in the water.  As some of the water evaporates during the boiling process, the lead concentration of the water can increase as the water is boiled. 

Filtration systems can be used to eliminate the chloramine and lead in household water.   Although more expensive than most systems, reverse osmosis systems are the most effective filtration systems on the market.  Keep in mind, however, that reverse osmosis will also remove any of the beneficial fluoridation that is added to the water for dental protection, which is important for children.  Talk to your child’s dentist if you elect to use a reverse osmosis system.

A simple blood test is available to measure the amount of lead in your blood and to estimate how much lead you have been exposed to.  Pediatricians often recommend yearly blood tests for children six and under.

via “Water-cleanup experiment caused lead poisoning”,  ScienceNews.org, Janet Raloff, January 27, 2009

via EPA, Information about Chloramine in Drinking Water

This post was updated on February 4, 2009

Bookmark Bookmark this page
E-mail E-mail this story
Print this post Print this post

1 Response to “Chloramination of Drinking Water May Release Lead”


  1. For more information about chloramine in drinking water and the other health effects people are experiencing, see http://www.vce.org/chloramine.html and http://www.chloramine.org. The EPA’s website does not fully disclose all the problems people are having all over the country when their water systems switch to chloramine.

Leave a Reply

Currently you have JavaScript disabled. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page.