Water quality has been a major focus of environmental advocacy for the past 20 years.
Since its introduction in the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been one of the biggest advocates for cleaning up pollution.
However, it has also become clear that many pollutants can be safely disposed of by simply pouring them down the toilet, as long as the water has not been treated with chloramine.
In 2016, the EPA issued a new set of guidelines for wastewater treatment.
This is the latest step in the agency’s ongoing commitment to make the water we use more sustainable and secure for human health.
But while the guidelines have been welcomed by environmental groups, many water quality experts are concerned about the extent to which the guidelines will actually help improve water quality.
According to a recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology, the average level of chloramine in municipal water in the US is around 1,600 parts per million (ppm), while the US average is more than 12,000 ppm.
Even in the worst-case scenario, chloramine levels in water could be as high as 25,000 ppm.
If the EPA can’t keep up with the pace of progress, many advocates are worried that the guidelines could set a precedent for companies to treat water with chlorine, which could result in a more toxic environment for human and aquatic life.
The main problem with this new set to enforce a more stringent standards is that it doesn’t include water quality data.
“If you take the water quality for example, chloramines are naturally occurring compounds, and they are also present in most human tissues and body fluids, so the data is going to be pretty limited,” says Dan Pashley, a senior lecturer in water and wastewater science at the University of Manchester.
“That means we’re going to have a huge amount of information on how chloramine affects human health and the environment, which is really quite disappointing.
We don’t know the full picture.”
Pashley argues that the best way to address chloramine is by treating the water to a level that is suitable for human consumption, but that this process will be expensive and could be time-consuming.
He believes the new guidelines, which have been in place for several years, are a good first step.
But he also argues that they are far from being comprehensive.
For instance, the guidelines say that chloramines should be used “in the lowest concentrations of 10 ppm, as they are very toxic,” but it does not specify how to measure that.
And, according to Pashke, the new standards do not take into account the fact that chloramine can be found in the water at levels that are much higher than the EPA guidelines.
“In some cases, chloraminis can actually be higher than those guidelines say they should be, and if that is the case, we are going to need a new way of measuring them,” he says.
“That’s something we need to do a lot more of.”
What is the EPA trying to do?
One of the main goals of the EPA’s new guidelines is to address what has become a growing concern among environmental groups and policymakers: chloramine pollution in drinking water can cause health problems.
According to Pachley, the main concern with chloramines is that they can make water taste sweet.
But, as the chemical gets into the body, it can also make it hard for people to digest food.
“Chloramine is the single most important environmental pollutant that’s causing health problems in the U.S. and around the world,” says Pashly.
“Chlorine can be absorbed into the gut, and when we consume chloramine, that’s what causes the problem.
So it is very important that we make sure that we use less chloramine.”
Chloramines also play a role in the development of some cancers.
“We know that chlorinated drinking water is associated with a higher risk of breast and colon cancer in women,” says Dr. Katherine Hager, director of the Center for Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“And so we know that we need better understanding of chloraminas effects on breast cancer.”
Pachley says that while the EPA is aware of the issue, the agency has not made any recommendations yet to reduce chloramine use in drinking waters.
“The EPA is not going to do anything about it, unless we get some information from the industry, which means that they’re going have to get in front of consumers and tell them what to do,” he said.
Hager agrees that the EPA needs to act on chloramine as soon as possible.
“This is something that we know is occurring and it’s going to continue to occur in the future, and so we need a proactive approach,” she says.
In the meantime, Pashleys research has shown that chloraminates can also increase the risk of cancer.
In his research, he found