Many regulations throughout the world require chlorine treatment of the water. In the US, 75 per cent of the water consumed is chlorinated.
Chlorination is inferior water treatment. Although it has greatly lowered infectious waterborne diseases in countries like the US and Canada, chlorination fails against a variety of water problems, including parasites, and can seriously harm those who use the water.
Preliminary evidence suggests that chlorinated water can damage your arteries. Researchers led by William F. Enos autopsied 300 GIs who had died in the Korean War. These men, who had been inducted as healthy, averaged 22.1 years of age; yet, 77 per cent of them showed 'gross evidence of arteriosclerosis in the coronary arteries', some of whom had partly or completely blocked arteries (JAMA, 1953; 152: 1090-3).
The water that the soldiers had to drink in Korea was heavily chlorinated. In Vietnam, too, autopsies revealed heart-artery damage (JAMA, 1971; 216: 1185-7). Again, water supplied to them had been heavily chlorinated.
Highly reactive chlorine is an industrial waste product. Chlorine oxidises lipid (fatty) contaminants in the water, creating free radicals (highly reactive atomic or subatomic particles lacking an electron) and oxysterols (formed when lipid and oxygen molecules combine). Excess free radicals and excess oxysterols damage arteries and initiate cancer, among other kinds of harm.
Chlorine destroys Lactobacillus acidophilus, which feeds the three pounds or so of immune-strengthening 'good' bacteria in the colon. It also combines with organic impurities in the water to make chloramines, or trihalomethanes (THMs). The more organic matter, the more THMs which, like excess oxysterols, are carcinogenic.
Chlorinated water alters and destroys essential fatty acids (EFAs), the building blocks of the brain and central nervous system (Chem Res Toxicol, 1992; 5: 418-25). Hypochlorite, formed when chlorine mixes with water, generates excess free radicals that oxidise EFAs, making them turn rancid.
Among the THMs created when chlorine combines with organic compounds in water are carcinogenic chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. The combination of chlorine and organic materials already in the water produces cancer-causing byproducts. The more organic matter in the water, the greater the accumulation of THMs (Epidemiology, 1998; 9: 134-40).
A study of more than 5000 pregnant women showed that those who drank more than five glasses a day of tapwater containing more than 75 parts per billion (ppb) of THMs had a 9.5 per cent risk of miscarriage vs 5.7 per cent in women less exposed to the contaminants (JAWWA, 1992; Apr: 29).
Drinking and swimming in chlorinated water can cause melanoma (J Invest Dermatol, 1980; 75: 122-7; Epidemiology, 1992; 3: 263-5). Sodium hypochlorite, used in swimming pools, can cause genetic mutations (Environ Cell Perspect, 1996; 69: 221-5). Indeed, one study concluded that worldwide pollution of rivers and oceans, and chlorination of swimming-pool water have led to an increase in melanoma (Epidemiology, 1992; 3: 263-5).
A study in the late 1970s found that chlorinated water appears to increase the risk of gastrointestinal cancer over a person's lifetime by 50-100 per cent. This risk of cancer was from water containing chlorine at or below the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standard (Harris R, speech to the Miami chapter of The Sierra Club, 1980).
A review of studies found chlorinated water in the US to be associated each year with an estimated 9 per cent of bladder cancer cases and 18 per cent of rectal cancers (Am J Public Health, 1997; 87: 1168-76).
Researchers in Finland found yet another hazard in chlorinated water: a byproduct called MX. By causing genetic mutations, MX initiated cancer, at least in laboratory animals (J Natl Cancer Inst, 1997; 89: 832-3, 848-56).
For all its dangers, chlorine isn't very effective at killing dangerous bugs, including Cryptosporidium. (In 1993, this protozoan killed more than 100 people and infected over 400,000 in the US alone). The American Society of Microbiology recently reported that water in the US is filled with microbes that pose a growing threat to public health (Acres USA, 1999; Sept: 5).
Substitute water treatments
There are many better, safer and cheaper alternatives to chlorine. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) destroys infectious organisms and impurities in water 4000 times better than chlorine (McCabe E, Oxygen Therapies, Morrisville, NY: Energy Publications, 1990) - at only two-thirds the cost of chlorination in some places. A 35-per-cent technical grade H2O2 promotes bacterial growth that will break down sewage and enhance the oxygen level in the discharge water entering lakes and streams (Acres USA, 1999; Aug: 46).
Ozone (O3) is equally effective. To generate ozone, dry air or oxygen is passed through a high-voltage electrical field. Worldwide, 1100 cities treat their drinking water with ozone, some since 1901. Ozone treatment in Massachusetts successfully controlled the effects of algae blooms and eliminated water-quality problems. Potential THM formation was reduced by an average of 75 per cent (Am City County, 1996; 111: 38).
To protect yourself against the dangers of the water supply, carry out your own water purification with either a reverse-osmosis water purifier or carbon block filters. One type of filter combines a carbon block to remove lead, chemical and organic pollutants with ultraviolet light to kill microbes. If you don't, every time you turn on your tap, you could be risking your health.