Chlorination is the process of adding the element chlorine to water as a method of water purification to make it fit for human consumption as drinking water. Water which has been treated with chlorine is effective in preventing the spread of disease.

The chlorination of public drinking supplies was originally met with resistance, as people were concerned about the health effects of the practice. The use of chlorine has greatly reduced the prevalence of waterborne disease as it is effective against almost all bacteria and viruses.

Chlorination is also used to sterilize the water in swimming pools and as a disinfection stage in sewage treatment. It can also apply to the addition of chlorine to other elements, such as gold in the formation of gold chloride.

Chemistry in WaterEdit

When chlorine is added to water, hypochlorous and hydrochloric acids form:

Cl2 + H2O → HClO + HCl

Depending on the pH, hypochlorous acid partly dissociates to hydrogen and hypochlorite ions:

HClO → H+ + ClO-

The hypochlorite ion then most often degrades to a mixture of chloride and chlorate ions:

3 ClO → 2 Cl + ClO3


Disinfection by chlorination can be problematic, in some circumstances. Chlorine can react with naturally occurring organic compounds found in the water supply to produce dangerous compounds, known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The most common DBPs are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids. In addition to risks from ingestion of chlorinated water, research has shown that bathing or swimming in it may increase the risk of bladder cancer. [1] Due to the carcinogenic potential of these compounds, federal regulations in the United States of America require regular monitoring of the concentration of these compounds in the distribution systems of municipal water systems. However, the World Health Organization has stated that the "Risks to health from DBPs are extremely small in comparison with inadequate disinfection."[1]

There are also other concerns regarding chlorine including its volatile nature which causes it to disappear too quickly from the water system, and aesthetic concerns such as taste and odor.


Several alternatives to traditional chlorination exist, and have been put into practice to varying extents. Ozonation is used by some municipalities in the United States, including Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Due to current regulations, systems employing ozonation in the United States still must maintain chlorine residuals comparable to systems without ozonation.

Disinfection with chloramine is also becoming increasingly common. Unlike chlorine, chloramine has a longer half life in the distribution system and still maintains effective protection against pathogens. The reason chloramines persist in the distribution is due to the relatively lower redox potential in comparison to free chlorine. Chloramine is formed by the addition of ammonia into drinking water to form mono-, di-, and trichloramines.

Water treated by slow sand filtration may not need further disinfection as a very high proportion of pathogens are removed by microorganisms in the filter bed.

The advantage of chlorine in comparison to ozone is that the residual persists in the water for an extended period of time. This feature allows the chlorine to travel through the water supply system, effectively controlling pathogenic backflow contamination. In a large system this may not be adequate, and so chlorine levels may be boosted at points in the distribution system, or chloramine may be used, which remains in the water for longer before reacting or dissipating.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. "Chlorinated water exposure may boost cancer risk" Reuters Health, January 18, 2007

Adapted from the Wikipedia article "Chlorination"

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