We’ve been looking for a chlorine alternative for our Brooklyn brownstone gray water systems. Chlorine is not ideal because it gives off fumes. I’ve also read that when the chlorine molecules bond with the soil particles it alters the chlorine into a form called Chloramine that causes cancer. This is a concern if using the gray water to water edibles.

Here is what one site says . Granted the site is overly alarmist but you get the picture with this quote:

Chloramine is a toxin added to drinking water. It is a secondary disinfectant used by many States as a primary disinfectant. Chloramine is ammonia added to chlorine to make chloramine. Chlorine has been shown from animal and human research to cause breast cancer in humans. Listed in the MSDS industrial chemistry book with an “X” and to be used only in an emergency to attempt to destroy liver flukes and Cryptosporidium in humans. Chloramine does not have an antidote and is genotoxic, meaning DNA destruction and is a mutagenic, meaning it causes tissue mutations.

The EPA is a lot more forgiving of Chloramine saying that the benefits outweigh the risks but they still admit that animal studies have shown it causes cancer, albeit they us this as an excuse that the chemical is ok for humans:

EPA believes that water disinfected with monochloramine that meets regulatory standards poses no known or anticipated adverse health effects, including cancer. Most of the research on the cancer risk of monochloramine comes from animal studies using mice and rats. EPA’s regulatory standard for chloramines provides a wide margin of safety to offset any uncertainties in risk assessments.

So anyway the use of Chlorine is suspect in my opinion. I was a pool life guard for years when growing up. I was on the swim team etc. And I’m not dead. So of course our bodies can handle chlorine.

BUT our bodies can handle smokings, alcohol and car fumes as well. There are a lot of chain smoking alcoholic mechanics in the world who are doing just fine. Or what about small amounts of formaldehyde? Have your smelled your couch lately? Odds are it has some.

Just because our body can handle something does not mean we aren’t happier and healthier without it.

And that is why we are looking for chlorine alternatives to keep the gray water from becoming toxic.

An often touted alternative to chlorine is bromine. For example this site says:

Bromine kills bacteria the same way chlorine does, but while chlorine produces chloramines, bromine produces bromamines. There’s no need to worry, however, as bromamines are actually a disinfectant in their own right and are capable of killing bacteria.

Despite their reassurance and the many positive aspects of Bromine I decided to research further and one fellow green builder pointed out to me that Bromine is an endocrine disruptor. He pointed me to this breast cancer site where they aren’t very kind to Bromine:

Elevated bromide levels have been implicated in every thyroid disease, from simple hypothyroidism to auto-immune diseases to thyroid cancer…Rats fed even the minimal amount of bromine expected to be encountered in the environment underwent goiter-like changes…Technicians exposed to brominated compounds for prolonged periods developed multiple cherry angiomas on the trunk and extremities…The psychiatry literature abounds with cases of elevated bromide levels being implicated in mental conditions from depression to schizophrenia…Potassium bromate, a bread additive, is known to cause renal damage and permanent deafness in animals and man…The ability of bromate to cause cancer, especially kidney cancer, is a significant health concern…

Etc. Etc.

So what is a Brooklyn green contractor to do if we want to lessen the amount of toxins our clients come in contact with? Clearly gray water that goes putrid isn’t good either. So is it a trade off? Chlorine is better than putrid water?

Like everything in life I think the solution lies in the design. If you are faced with two undesirable options, in this case putrid water vs. chemicals, then maybe changing the paradigm altogether is the solution.

In the case of gray water I think the solution lies in removing the elements that create the putrid water in the first place.

Does this mean not treating the water at all and not storing it and/or having a high turnover of gray water in the container? How does this effect the use of gray water for watering gardens if you don’t have it in a tank? It means building an irrigation system that won’t clog…another challenge. But maybe a better one than trying to decide which chemical to use.

The search goes on for the perfect gray water system in a Brooklyn brownstone. It is an important search and one we are making progress in. We have three brownstones we are designing gray water systems for right now, and luckily for us the clients are forgiving of the fact that they are part of an ongoing search for improvement.