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If the smell of your tap water gives you flashbacks to summers spent by the pool, it’s likely there’s high levels of chlorine in your drinking water. Treatment plants throughout Australia use chlorine to neutralise bacteria, parasites, viruses, and various harmful microorganisms before drinking water is distributed to households. Even though chlorine in water is a common additive, it’s important to identify the reasons why your water is emitting a noticeable odour so that you can fix the issue and get back to enjoying crisp, scentless water again. This scent can sometimes also be recognised as a bleach smell.
“Ideally, drinking water should be, clear, colourless, and well aerated with no unpalatable taste or odours. It should contain no suspended matter, harmful chemical substances or pathogenic micro-organisms”.
Many are aware that chlorine is used for water treatment; it’s simply the most cost-effective method for treating the many bacteria that could be lurking within public pools and drinking water supplies. Before water is transferred from the supply, it usually goes through several steps of treatment before making its way to building's taps and into our drinking glass. Chlorine is used as one of the final treatments in order to kill any possible remaining parasites, bacteria and viruses. Adding this disinfectant also protects water from germs when it travels through the pipes of the community and into our homes or workplaces.
Yet despite its germ and bug busting qualities, chlorine can be harmful to our health. However, it’s often not chlorine alone that’s the problem. there can be disinfection by-products that emerge when chlorine-treated water enters and passes through any water distribution system.
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines recommend a safe chlorine to water ratio of 5mg to every litre. Typically, the chlorine levels found across Australian tends to be between 0.5mg to 1.5mg per litre, significantly lower than the guidelines set.
However, it's still important to understand that there are dangers associated with long-term consumption of high levels of chlorine, with links to serious health issues. Studies have shown that those who drink chlorine contaminated water have been found to be at a 93% higher cancer risk than those who weren’t exposed to such waste. The health risks associated with chlorine consumption can differ in severity depending on the level of contamination. In most instances, low levels of chlorine consumption will pose no adverse health effects from this contaminant. In fact, the Government of Western Australia have found consumption of up to ten times their recommendation level to be safe.
Though very uncommon through drinking water alone, in instances where chlorine has been consumed at very high levels the side effects can be wide ranging and potentially very dangerous. Numerous studies established a clear link between chlorine within human tissue and reduced sperm counts, and also complications for pregnant women. If you're consuming levels of chlorine that range from 25mg to every litre and above side effects such as tiredness, dizziness or headaches may be common, and consistent consumption at this level has been related to an increased risk of heart attack.
If you are concerned about the water quality in your area and believe the levels of chlorine may be too high, then you should contact your local water service provider. Following this you may also want to contact your relevant authority (who you should contact will depend upon where you live, details are below).
For more information about chlorine in drinking water, get in touch with the following organisations relevant to your location:
The official advice from the Western Australian Government is that water that smells or tastes of chlorine may be still safe to drink; specifically stating that: “the smell will evaporate simply by leaving a jug of uncovered water in the fridge for a short period of time”. Yet our professional advice would be to follow their guidance and report any and all concerns to them on 08 9388 4999 should you be unsatisfied with the response from the local water service provider.
For those who live in Northern Australia there are an array of bodies that cover various regions; more information can be found on the Contact page for the Department of Health for the Northern Territory Government.
The Queensland Government state that there may occasionally be water supplies that are accompanied with an unusual taste or smell, and that in the majority of cases this is still safe to consume. Similar to Western Australia they too advise you to contact the local water supplier.
You may find the contact details for the Queensland Government Department of Energy and Water Supply by following this link.
As South Australia is home to the government business entity that is SA Water you may contact the them directly via the SA Water contact page.
New South Wales
Chemical levels within New South Wales’ drinking water supplies are monitored through the NSW Drinking Water Monitoring Program; you may also contact the NSW Ministry of Health via their contact page.
Victoria has recently revised their Safe Drinking Water Regulations – you can read more about this here. Victoria also undertake an annual report of the water quality throughout the state, download the 2014-2015 report here.
Should you have concerns about your water supply in Victoria, you can contact the government’s dedicated department for their water program on: 1300 761 874 (during business hours); on pager: 1300 790 733 (which is a 24-hour pager service for public health emergencies) or by email: email@example.com.