Chlorine in Drinking Water: Why and What are the Effects?

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Chlorine is credited as being discovered in the late 18th century by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Scheele however did not realize chlorine itself as an element, this was concluded by Sir Humphry Davy in the early 19th century. Since these discoveries chlorine has been used for a variety of purposes including textile bleaches, as an antiseptic, anti-putrefaction, and even in chemical warfare.

Chlorine has also been used as a disinfectant in public sanitation including swimming pools and drinking water as early as the 1820’s. In the early 1900’s the U.S. Department of Treasury established the first standards for drinking water being supplied to the public. Today most cities use Chlorine as a disinfectant in drinking water to control microbial contaminants and thus meet federal standards for contaminates in drinking water.

Chlorine itself is a highly reactive element and a strong oxidizer. As a strong oxidizer Chlorine can cause adverse effects in various materials and can contribute to material degradation including corrosion. Although Chlorine has these qualities the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that at certain levels chlorine is safe for human consumption in drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act sets the current regulations for contaminants, disinfectants, and other chemicals in drinking water. The current regulation for Chlorine in drinking water is no more than 4.0 mg/L or 4.0 parts per million. Most municipalities chlorinate well below that level.

Although Chlorine in drinking water has been deemed safe for human consumption the effects of chlorine on plumbing materials must be considered in order to avoid material failures. Through various testing methods a materials chemical compatibility or resistance to Chlorine in water can be determined. The higher resistance each material has the greater safety when used with chlorinated water.