Ozone or Chlorine: Purifier or Poison

by Dan Loehndorf

Poison is flowing from our taps like water. Sediment, lead, acid from rain, pesticides, chlorine, various bacteria, viruses and other pests have made a trip to the sink a sometimes fatal hazard.. Ozone has the potential to purify our water of pathogens and replace chlorine, the most pervasive water pollutant of all. Yet certain groups seem to have a stake in keeping Ozone under wraps.

Ozone has been around as long as nature. Essentially, it is electrically charged oxygen, or 03 and is produced naturally by lightning, waterfalls, breaking waves and the action of photons striking ambient oxygen floating high in the earth's atmosphere.

Across North America, water quality is on the decline. A Canadian Ministry of the Environment report released in the spring of 1992 stated that "failure to protect water resources from further contamination would be an unmitigated disaster." In the United States, the disasters have already started. In 1993, in Milwaukee, over 40,000 people contracted a water-born disease known as cryptosporidium. Over 100 of the infected (those with compromised immune systems) died within a year. Since 1993, authorities in Canada have been monitoring cryptosporidium outbreaks and found them growing in number all across the continent.

The common solution to the problem is simply to add more poison-specifically, a poison known as chlorine. Giardia, or "beaver fever," is resistant to low levels of chlorine and has prompted cities to increase their chlorine content over the past few years. Chlorine, however, is useless in preventing cryptosporidium outbreaks, as intolerable amounts of the toxic substance would have to be added to the water to reliably cleanse it of the bug. Giardia and cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorine because they leave the body of their host by riding in feces, balled up in little shells, or cysts, that protect them until they are consumed by another victim.

Feces-contaminated water is an international problem. Environment Canada reports that, worldwide, there are over 34,000 deaths daily from feces- and sediment-contaminated water. There is speculation that extensive environmental degradation of the watersheds has allowed excrement from farms and wild animal habitats to leak directly into municipal water supplies and eventually to your tap.

Ozone is the perfect answer to the global clean-water crisis. The US Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency found that ozone effectively destroys 99.9992 per cent of pathogens, including giardia and cryptosporidium. The American Water Works Association did research in 1991 that found ozone effectively neutralized viruses, bacteria, amoeba, protozoa and spores in municipal water supplies. At the Second International Symposium on Ozone Applications in 1997, WJ Masschelein, honorary president of the International Ozone Association, summarized some of ozone's other benefits as a water purifier:

"Ozone is now used for taste and odor control, removal of iron manganese....biodegradability of dissolved organic substances, ability to cope with parasites and alone or with synergic procedures [to remove] very refractory compounds like chlorinated pesticides."

Ozone has no known toxicity. Many people even inject it directly into their bloodstreams for its therapeutic benefits. The father of naturopathy, Dr Benedict Lust, was a proponent of ozone for the treatment of various illnesses and ozone therapy is a certified naturopathic technique today. Freshly ozonated water is one common therapeutic modality. The ancient Greeks called ozone "the breath of God," in reverence for its healing properties.

Even ozone for water treatment is not a new idea. The first ozone generator was invented in 18S7 by a German named Werner von Siemens and it wasn't long before the first ozone water treatment plant was up and running in Ousbaden, Holland in 1893. Today, over 3,000 cities use ozone to purify their water, including Montreal, which has the world's second largest ozone water purification plant, purifying over a million cubic metres of water per day. But many municipalities have been slow in catching on. Milwaukee only recently began using ozone to clean its water, and only after intense pressure from 40,000 cryptosporidium victims.

In Vancouver, when a citizens' committee was formed to decide on water treatment alternatives, they were instructed by city officials that ozone was more expensive than chlorine and that cryptosporidium was not a problem. When concerned parties discovered that the chlorine plant had doubled in size to accommodate increased demand before the committee had even made its decision, suspicion was aroused. It was discovered that not only was cryptosporidium a problem in Vancouver, but in the long term ozone would be considerably less expensive than chlorine. Last October, the City of Vancouver was pressured into accepting the ozone water-treatment alternative.

Most major cities still do not ozonate their water. In 1989 Environment Canada commissioned a report which showed increasing rates of infertility, birth defects, chronic neurological conditions and increases in cancer incidence in wild animals exposed to chlorinated water. Environment Canada's Science Advisory Board concluded that "the concentrations of organochlorines in ... wild populations are in the same general range as those found in human populations. Because of their short generation times, populations of fish and wildlife may be showing effects that will appear later in human populations."

Other studies have shown that humans are already suffering from the same effects experienced in wild animal populations. Perhaps the most insidious of all chlorine's effects is that it kills plankton, zooplankton and other microorganisms, effectively wiping out the lowest level of the earth's complex food web, upon which all other life on our planet depends.

Meanwhile, certain government authorities would have the public believe exactly the opposite of the truth: that chlorine is safe and that ozone is a dangerous pollutant. In 1994, the Canadian Ministry of the Environment announced a ban on many chlorine-based products, but continued to allow it to be added to drinking water, claiming there was not enough evidence for an "outright" ban on chlorine. According to the Ministry, chlorine is dangerous in paints and pesticides, but is safe in drinking water!

From the Tap to the Womb: Chlorine Contamination

by Peter Montague

A study by the California department of Health published in March, 1998, tracked the drinking water consumption and the pregnancy outcomes of 5,144 pregnant women in a prepaid health plan during the period 1989-1991. The drinking water consumption of the women was ascertained as soon as their pregnancy was registered in the study's database. Later, the outcome of their pregnancy was compared with the amount of water they drank and the total amount of trihalomethanes (THMs) they received from water treated with chlorine (information received from the water companies).

The researchers found that 16 per cent of women drinking five or more glasses of water per day containing more than 75 ppb THMs had miscarriages, 1.8 times more often than women with low exposure. Furthermore, spontaneous abortion occurred, on average, a week earlier among women with high exposure (10.2 vs 11.2 weeks of gestation). The researchers also compared women who filtered their water or let the water stand before drinking it with women who drank water straight from the tap. (THMs are volatile and will slowly leave water that is allowed to stand.) The results were consistent with THMs causing spontaneous abortion.

Dangerous Exposure

Last January, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published a case-control study showing that serious birth defects (spina bifida or neural tube defects) are associated with THMs ingested in drinking water. (Neural tube defects are serious birth defects in which the spinal cord is not properly enclosed by bone.)

This statewide study in New Jersey found a doubled risk of neural tube defects among those with the highest exposures to THMs in drinking water. This study also pointed out that flushing toilets, showering and washing dishes and clothes can inject THMs into household air, exposing residents.

A previous study of 75 New Jersey towns by Frank Bove had examined 80,938 live births and 594 fetal deaths that occurred during the period between 1985 and 1988. This study examined public water company records and compared pregnancy outcomes to the amounts of THMs delivered to the home in drinking water. It did not examine the amount of water ingested. The study found no relationship to fetal deaths, but the likelihood of neural tube defects was tripled by exposure to THMs at levels exceeding 80 ppb.

Neural tube defects are known to be associated with vitamin B12 deficiency. Studies show that vitamin B12 use by the body can be disrupted by chloroform, one of the four main THMs in chlorinated drinking water.

An even earlier case-control study reported on pregnancy outcomes among women who delivered babies at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston during the years 1977-1980. Indicators of water quality were taken from public water supply companies. No data were available on the amount of water ingested. The water quality indicators were compared among 1,039 cases of babies born with birth defects, 77 stillbirths and 55 neonatal deaths (babies that died within a week of birth) vs 1,177 controls. Stillbirths were 2.6 times as common among women exposed to chlorinated surface water, compared to controls whose water was disinfected with chloramine instead of chlorine.

More recently, a study of drinking water and pregnancy outcomes in central North Carolina reported a 2.8-fold increased likelihood of miscarriage among women in the highest exposure group for THMs in drinking water.

Very recently, a second study from the California Department of Health has shown that, in one area of California, women who drank cold tap water had nearly a five-fold increased risk of miscarriage, compared to women who drank mostly bottled water.

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