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Efforts to disinfect drinking water may actually create more toxins

Researchers found that the detoxifying process may need some tweaking

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Photo (c) Dzurag - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University called into question the way most consumers’ drinking water is kept clean. 

According to the researchers, chlorine is typically added to drinking water to kill bacteria, but experts worry about the effectiveness of this process, as too much chlorine can actually counteract the benefits of the chemical. The study revealed that chlorinating drinking water can actually create more toxins that make it dangerous for consumers. 

“There’s no doubt that chlorine is beneficial; chlorination has saved millions of lives worldwide from diseases such as typhoid and cholera since its arrival in the early 20th century,” said researcher Carsten Prasse. “But that process of killing potentially fatal bacteria and viruses comes with unintended consequences. The discovery of these previously unknown, highly toxic byproducts raises the question [of] how much chlorination is really necessary.” 

Keeping water clean

To test the efficacy of the current disinfectant system, the researchers conducted an experiment that allowed them to determine what effect chlorinated water has on the body. 

To test their hypothesis, the researchers added an amino acid to the chlorinated water to see how the chlorine would respond to amino acids and proteins in the body. After the water and amino acid mixture sat overnight, the researchers analyzed the changes that occurred on the sample. They discovered 2-butene-1,4-dial (BDA), a known carcinogen, had formed. 

This was a surprising finding for the researchers. While chemical byproducts have been found in water samples after the disinfection process, this was the first time that BDA was found in what was considered to be clean water. 

The results have led Prasse to call the current water cleaning process into question. While clean water is the ultimate goal, experts need to be mindful of how much chlorine is too much. The researchers say other detoxifying options could help ensure that consumers are getting clean water with no risks attached. 

“In other countries, especially Europe, chlorination is not used as frequently, and the water is still safe from waterborne illnesses,” Prasse said. “In my opinion, we need to evaluate when chlorination is really necessary for the protection of human health and when alternative approaches might be better.” 

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