When hypochlorite-containing bleach is mixed with ammonia containing products, such as window cleaners, chloramine gas is formed. And even though chloramine is slightly less damaging than chlorine, it still is hazardous. Fumes can cause immediate watering and burning of the eyes, a runny nose, sore throat, coughing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Inhaling too much chlorine or chloramine can lead to chemical pneumonia.
Chloramines, however, have another side as well. They can be used as an alternative to chlorination in water disinfection. Chlorination was one of the greatest technological innovations ever introduced. Before its use, cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery were common. But chlorination introduced some problems as well. Naturally occurring organic compounds in water as well as some pollutants can react with chlorine to form the notorious trihalomethanes, or THMs, which are likely carcinogens. Chloramines do not do this. That’s why many water treatment authorities are switching to the use of chloramines instead of chlorine. Chloramine is more stable than chlorine and lasts longer in the distribution system, providing increased protection.
At the levels used in drinking water, about 1 ppm, chloramines are safe. At higher concentrations the story is different. You probably experienced the irritation chloramines can cause if you have ever had burning eyes in a swimming pool. The common misconception is that this is due to chlorine. It is not. Chlorine is used for water purification, but chloramines form when sweat or urine, both of which release ammonia, combine with chlorine. So if your eyes are burning while swimming, chances are that someone has been fouling the water.
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