“We sometimes underestimate the influence of the little things.” – Charles W. Chesnutt
It is incredible to think that something as small as a virus has shut down much of the world economy, particularly the free movement of people for business or recreation. Reading through industry news, most events through April/May have been cancelled and along with business trips. Additionally, in an effort to be cautious and to #flattenthecurve, many hotels have decided to temporarily suspend operations. The result is that many hotels will be sitting vacant for at least the next month.
This unfortunately leads to numerous unintended consequences, most notably that chemical disinfectant (e.g. chlorines and chloramines) will dissolve into the water and waterborne pathogens, like legionella, will flourish. Humans being, as innovative as we are, are already working on solutions – mostly in the realm of enhancing water management program (WMP) activities such as flushing and monitoring. While these are certainly good activities, I’d like to challenge us all to reevaluate our model – specifically the focus on chlorine and chloramines, which I will name the “Chlorine Model”.
Chlorine, Chloramines, DBPs, WMPs, and Flushing
To start, let’s ask this question: Why do so many WMP’s focus so much on flushing and monitoring?
A large reason (although in fairness not the only reason) is due to the long-time use of the “Chlorine Model” – that is Chlorine (and chloramines, which is chlorine with ammonia) being commonly used for disinfection, and a large part of what WMP’s do is to try and manage their short-comings.
The main three disadvantages of the “Chlorine Model” are as follows:
- Chlorine and chloramines react with naturally occurring organic material to form carcinogenic disinfectant-byproducts (DBP’s) – some of which are regulated, and others are not;
- Chlorine and chloramines dissolve readily into water, especially at higher temperatures, allowing waterborne pathogens to flourish;
- Chlorine and chloramines corrode piping, including copper piping.
Although each of these items causes significant concerns, in this article we will focus on the creation of DBP’s by chlorines and chloramines. In his book Troubled Water, Seth Siegel talks about chlorine’s main DBP, Trihalomethane (THM):
“When chlorine mixed with naturally occurring organic material… [in] water sources, chemicals called trihalomethanes, or THMs, were created… THMs had already been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and was suspected – and later confirmed – as being a possible carcinogen.”
Since 1998, EPA water regulations allow for an upper limit of 80 ppb THMs in our water. What is interesting to note is that studies show that there are correlations of THM levels well below EPA limits causing bladder cancer and pregnancy issues. Chloramines are no better, as their DBP include cyanogen chloride (related to cyanide), among others, which are unregulated by the EPA. In essence, we need to be extremely mindful of what we are putting into the water, and the long-term consequences of water remaining stagnant. This is especially true if travel restrictions do not allow for adequate system flushing by water treatment professionals or maintenance staff.
What’s interesting to note is that countries like Germany and Switzerland are extremely careful about the amount of chlorine (and thereby DBPs) they allow in their plumbing systems. They allow no more than 0.2 ppm, and they outright ban chloramines in part because of their refusal to introduce harmful chemicals into the water their people drink. More and more people in the US, on their own accord, seek out non-GMO and/or organic food – yet the water we drink consistently doesn’t meet this same standard. An incredibly positive development in this regard is the International WELL Building Institute’s “Feature 36 Water Treatment”: “Part 1 Organic Chemical Removal” which puts a high value on eliminating chlorines and DBP from the water we drink.
A New Model is Needed
Thus, any “model” that we use to disinfect our drinking water needs to find ways to eliminate, not just mitigate, the risk of carcinogenic DBPs such as THMs or cyanogen chloride; for situations exactly like what we are experiencing (i.e. low occupancy where carcinogenic DBP’s can build up). Flushing activities should be focused on making sure disinfectant reaches all parts of the system, rather than flushing out carcinogenic DBPs. Because if travel restrictions don’t permit flushing of systems, the last thing we want to do is create an additional human hazard.
It is my belief that copper silver ionization (CSI) is the best technology available to solve this issue. As opposed to chlorines or chloramines, CSI has no chemicals added to the water, rather minerals are introduced into the water that are a naturally occurring and are already found in many of the world’s water supplies. If copper and silver bars are a minimum 30% silver (and 70% copper), and copper silver ion levels are thus kept at no less than 400 PPB copper, 40 PPB silver, complete control can be achieved. Even if the CSI system is turned off, or maintenance can’t be performed in the short term, the system can still control bacteria like legionella for months due to the “residual” effect of CSI, and again, no harmful disinfectant byproducts are created.
Whether we are staying at a hotel for one night, or in hospital for multiple weeks, having water that doesn’t make us sicker is of the utmost importance. At the end of the day the question we need to ask ourselves is this, “If we want the best and most-chemical-free food are we also willing to continue to consume water that has harmful chemicals in it?” My answer is a resounding “no” and so should yours. After all, it’s the little things that make all the difference.