Steve Hiltner: Princeton’s Drinking Water

waterglassThis past summer, we had some trouble keeping goldfish alive in our backyard miniponds. One possible reason is the chloramine used to disinfect Princeton’s drinking water. Chloramine–a combination of chlorine and ammonia–is safe for mammals but not for fish and frogs. By augmenting the pond’s rainwater with town water from the hose, I may have unwittingly zapped the fish. The chloramine is safe for people and other mammals because our digestive systems break down the chloramine before it reaches the blood stream. Fish, in contrast, absorb it straight into the blood through their gills. Water used for dialysis also has to be filtered.

If you’ve noticed a stronger smell of chlorine in the tapwater lately, it’s because our water company, New Jersey American Water, has switched from chloramine to free chlorine (“free” chemically, not monetarily) for the duration of this month through February, as part of a routine cleaning of the water delivery system. Free chlorine is a stronger disinfectant, but isn’t used year-round in part because chlorine can combine with trace organic compounds in the water to form organochlorides, or what they’re calling DPEs these days (disinfectant bi-products). The EPA seeks to minimize these in drinking water. A company rep told me that any slight increase in DPEs caused by the use of free chlorine for this annual treatment is well within EPA safety standards. click to continue…

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