By John Cardiff
Municipalities treat water to meet government guidelines, which they should. Disinfection chemicals such as chlorine or chloramines are added to the water when it leaves the treatment plant to protect the water from harmful bacteria and viruses as it travels through the kilometers of distribution pipes.
Chlorine, used for decades as a disinfectant for water, can create disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes (THMs), when it comes into contact with certain organics in water. THMs are a known carcinogen and are regulated by the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Chloramine was introduced many years ago as a disinfection chemical for drinking water. It is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. This chemical has gained in popularity over the last couple of decades because it tends to create lower levels of THMs when organics are present in the water. This makes it easier for municipalities to meet the MAC (maximum acceptable concentration) guideline for THMs, however, it is now being discovered that chloramine could create other potentially harmful disinfection by-products. More studies are being done on this and the affect on the human body.
Aging infrastructure also plays a big role in water quality issues across Canada. Boil water advisories are ever increasing and typically are a result of water main breaks due to aging infrastructure. High levels of lead are caused in part by lead service lines feeding older homes.
To upgrade these water mains is a huge undertaking let alone the expense. With aging infrastructure and a host of emerging contaminants and by-products from disinfection chemicals, it is up to the consumer to treat the water once it enters their home.
How do we treat water economically?
Increased levels of these disinfection chemicals used by municipalities is causing consumers to want to remove these chemicals after the water enters the home. They are experiencing everything from minor issues such as taste and odour, to major issues including leaks in plumbing systems from high levels of these chemicals. Granular activated carbon (GAC) in whole house point of entry (POE) treatment is a common method used to treat water. GAC is used for the reduction of chlorine and catalytic carbon is used for the reduction of chloramines.
When looking for carbon filtration products, ensure they are designed properly and to manufacturers’ specifications. POE carbon filtration is a little different from point of use (POU). Carbon requires a certain amount of contact time for the removal of these disinfection chemicals, so proper design of the filtration system is key to providing a quality product to the consumer. Look for a POE carbon filter that is third-party certified for performance under NSF/ANSI 42 standards for chlorine removal.
Not only will these carbon filters remove the chlorine or chloramines from the water, they will also reduce many other contaminants such as THMs, lead, pesticides, VOCs, organics, phenols, tannins, mercury and disinfection by-products. GAC is also used in most POU drinking water systems as well. Reverse osmosis systems incorporate GAC as a pre- and post-filter. Pitcher filters and under sink filters pretty much all use GAC as a base for their filter media.
In POE systems, we just use more of it to filter the water in a home. This is important because the disinfection chemicals can degrade rubber components of the plumbing system such as the flappers in toilets, O-rings, and seals in faucets. Chloramines can be more aggressive to the point of eating holes through copper pipe if the level is high enough. Off gassing of these chemicals also happens in the steam from a shower, so they can be inhaled as easily as ingested.
WHO SHOULD OFFER THE SOLUTION?
In many cases, the plumber is the first person the consumer calls to repair their plumbing system. Many plumbing system failures are caused by poor water quality. Whether it is scaling in water heaters and pipes caused by excessive hardness, leaking toilets and faucets or pinholes in copper pipes, the plumber should not only repair the issue with the plumbing system, but also identify the root problem causing the issue and offer a solution to fix it.
Commercial applications are no different and, in some cases, water quality is even more important. Commercial dishwashers and water heaters require soft water to operate properly. Coffee shops and restaurants require quality chlorine/chloramine free drinking water to serve to their patrons. These are just a few examples of opportunities plumbers should get involved with in the commercial space.
Again, in many cases, the plumber is there fixing or replacing components of the plumbing system that have failed due to poor water quality. Plumbers should take it one step further and offer water treatment solutions to these commercial businesses to protect their investment and provide a higher quality product or experience to their customers.
The residential and commercial water treatment market will continue to grow. Emerging chemicals are in the spotlight right now. As mentioned before, Disinfection by-products from chloramines are under the microscope. Lead is a big drinking water topic, and forever chemicals (PFAS chemicals) are also an emerging contaminant.
Where will it end? Awareness around POE and POU drinking water quality grow into the future and as the trusted advisor, the plumber to provide quality water treatment products to the consumer. Watch out for products that make claims that are not substantiated, or third-party tested and certified.
A reputable company will offer products that are certified for performance. In North America, the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is the organization that creates standards around food and water safety. There are many third-party organizations that certify products to the NSF standard, so look for this certification when choosing products to treat the consumer’s water.