|Chlorine is a greenish-yellow gas that dissolves easily in water. It has a pungent, noxious odor that some people can smell at concentrations above 0.3 parts per million. Because chlorine is an excellent disinfectant, it is commonly added to most drinking water supplies in the US. In parts of the world where chlorine is not added to drinking water, thousands of people die each day from waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera.|
Chlorine is also used as a disinfectant in wastewater treatment plants and swimming pools. It is widely used as a bleaching agent in textile factories and paper mills, and it’s an important ingredient in many laundry bleaches.
Free chlorine (chlorine gas dissolved in water) is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, even in very small amounts. (See table.) However, its dangers are relatively short-lived compared to the dangers of most other highly poisonous substances. That is because chlorine reacts quickly with other substances in water (and forms combined chlorine) or dissipates as a gas into the atmosphere. The free chlorine test measures only the amount of free or dissolved chlorine in water. The total chlorine test measures both free and combined forms of chlorine.
If water contains a lot of decaying materials, free chlorine can combine with them to form compounds called trihalomethanes or THMs. Some THMs in high concentrations are carcinogenic to people. Unlike free chlorine, THMs are persistent and can pose a health threat to living things for a long time.
People who are adding chlorine to water for disinfection must be careful for two reasons: 1) Chlorine gas even at low concentrations can irritate eyes, nasal passages and lungs; it can even kill in a few breaths; and 2) The formation of THM compounds must be minimized because of the long-term health effects.
Less than one-half (0.5) mg/L of free chlorine is needed to kill bacteria without causing water to smell or taste unpleasant. Most people can’t detect the presence of chlorine in water at double (1.0 mg/L) that amount. Although 1.0 mg/L chlorine is not harmful to people, it does cause problems for fish if they are exposed to it over a long period of time.
Effects of chlorine on industrial processes
Chlorine may cause canned or frozen food to taste "funny". It also may effect the smoothness or brightness of plated metals. Chlorine levels as low as 0.3 mg/L can spoil the quality of high-grade paper during the manufacturing process.
Effects of chlorine in water used for irrigation
The concentration of chlorine in city water or treated wastewater rarely reaches 1.0 mg/L (ppm). So chlorine usually is not a problem to farmers and gardeners using either city water or wastewater to irrigate their crops.
Effects of chlorine on fish and aquatic life
The table shows how chlorine affects fish and aquatic organisms. It is important to realize chlorine becomes more toxic as the pH level of the water drops. And it becomes even more toxic when it is combined with other toxic substances such as cyanides, phenols and ammonia.
Phenols are organic chemicals produced when coal and wood are distilled and when oil is refined. Phenols are found in a number of products—from organic wastes to sheep dip. Although phenols are very toxic, dilute solutions of a phenol (carbolic acid) are used as a disinfectant.
|Dissolved oxygen (DO, pronounced dee-oh) is oxygen that is dissolved in water. It gets there by diffusion from the surrounding air; aeration of water that has tumbled over falls and rapids; and as a waste product of photosynthesis. An over simplified formula is given below:|
Photosynthesis (in the presence of light and chlorophyll):
Fish and aquatic animals cannot split oxygen from water (H2O) or other oxygen-containing compounds. Only green plants and some bacteria can do that through photosynthesis and similar processes. Virtually all the oxygen we breathe is manufactured by green plants. A total of three-fourths of the earth’s oxygen supply is produced by phytoplankton in the oceans.
If water is too warm, there may not be enough oxygen in it. When there are too many bacteria or aquatic animal in the area, they may overpopulate, using DO in great amounts.
Oxygen levels also can be reduced through overfertilization of water plants by run-off from farm fields containing phosphates and nitrates (the ingredients in fertilizers). Under these conditions, the numbers and size of water plants increase a great deal. Then, if the weather becomes cloudy for several days, respiring plants will use much of the available DO. When these plants die, they become food for bacteria, which in turn multiply and use large amounts of oxygen.
How much DO an aquatic organism needs depends upon its species, its physical state, water temperature, pollutants present, and more. Consequently, it’s impossible to accurately predict minimum DO levels for specific fish and aquatic animals. For example, at 5 oC (41 oF), trout use about 50-60 milligrams (mg) of oxygen per hour; at 25 oC (77 oF), they may need five or six times that amount. Fish are cold-blooded animals,so they use more oxygen at higher temperatures when their metabolic rate increases.
Numerous scientific studies suggest that 4-5 parts per million (ppm) of DO is the minimum amount that will support a large, diverse fish population. The DO level in good fishing waters generally averages about 9.0 parts per million (ppm).
When DO levels drop below about 3.0 parts per million, even the rough fish die. The table in this section shows some representative comparisons.
How Dissolved Oxygen Affects Water Supplies
A high DO level in a community water supply is good because it makes drinking water taste better. However, high DO levels speed up corrosion in water pipes. For this reason, industries use water with the least possible amount of dissolved oxygen. Water used in very low pressure boilers have no more than 2.0 ppm of DO, but most boiler plant operators try to keep oxygen levels to 0.007 ppm or less!
|The balance of positive hydrogen ions (H+) and negative hydroxide ions (OH-) in water determines how acidic or basic the water is. Notice the ' + ' and ' - ' in the chemical symbols above. They indicate that these chemical forms are 'ions' — they have a positive or negative electrical charge. This means the molecule in question is either missing an electron or has an extra electron. Since electrons have a negative charge, an extra one in the OH molecule makes it OH-, and a missing one in the H molecule gives it a "missing-minus" charge — in other words, positive — and makes it H+. When analysts measure pH, they are determining the balance between these ions.|
(cool h2ou student tip: to remember what pH is, think of the term "pH" as positive Hydrogen).
The pH scale ranges from 0 (high concentration of positive hydrogen ions, strongly acidic) to 14 (high concentration of negative hydroxide ions, strongly basic). In pure water, the concentration of positive hydrogen ions is in equilibrium with the concentration of negative hydroxide ions, and the pH measures exactly 7.
In a lake or pond, the water’s pH is affected by its age and the chemicals discharged by communities and industries. Most lakes are basic (alkaline) when they are first formed and become more acidic with time due to the build-up of organic materials. As organic substances decay, carbon dioxide (CO2) forms and combines with water to produce a weak acid, called "carbonic" acid — the same stuff that’s in carbonated soft drinks. Large amounts of carbonic acid lower water’s pH.
Most fish can tolerate pH values of about 5.0 to 9.0, but serious anglers look for waters between pH 6.5 and 8.2. The vast majority of American rivers, lakes and streams fall within this range, though acid rain has compromised many bodies of water in our environment.
Synergistic Effects of pH
Synergy is the process whereby two or more substances combine and produce effects greater than their sum. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 (mathematically). But synergistically, 2 + 2 = much more than 4! Synergy is a mathematical impossibility, but it is a chemical reality. Here’s how it works:
The pH of sea (salt) water is not as vulnerable as fresh water’s pH to acid wastes. This is because the different salts in sea water tend to buffer the water with Alka-Seltzer-like ingredients. Normal pH values in sea water are about 8.1 at the surface and decrease to about 7.7 in deep water. Many shellfish and algae are more sensitive than fish to large changes in pH, so they need the sea’s relatively stable pH environment to survive.
Shallow waters in subtropical regions that hold considerable organic matter often vary from pH 9.5 in the daytime to pH 7.3 at night. Organisms living in these waters are able to tolerate these extremes or swim into more neutral waters when the range exceeds their tolerance.
Industrial processes that use water can be affected by the pH level, and in many instances the pH is adjusted by adding chemicals or buffers. The table below shows optimal pH levels for a few different industrial processes.
|The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines turbidity as "the optical property of a water sample that causes light to be scattered and absorbed rather than transmitted in straight lines through the sample." In simple terms, turbidity answers the question, "How cloudy is the water?"|
Light’s ability to pass through water depends on how much suspended material is present. Turbidity may be caused when light is blocked by large amounts of silt, microorganisms, plant fibers, sawdust, wood ashes, chemicals and coal dust. Any substance that makes water cloudy will cause turbidity. The most frequent causes of turbidity in lakes and rivers are plankton and soil erosion from logging, mining, and dredging operations.
The most accurate way to determine water’s turbidity is with an electronic turbidimeter . The turbidimeter has a light source and a photoelectric cell that accurately measures the light scattered by suspended particles in a water sample. The results are reported in units called Nephelometric Turbidity Units or NTUs.
You also can measure turbidity by filtering a water sample and comparing the filter’s color (how light or dark it is) to a standard turbidity color chart. You’ll need the following equipment to do this: filter apparatus (Gelman or other manufacturer), some white membrane filters and a standard color chart to compare your findings. Your teacher will show you how to operate the filter equipment and will provide a color chart.
The procedure for using the Gelman filter apparatus to determine the turbidity of a water sample is as follows:
Drinking Water Standards
The APHA specifies drinking water turbidity shall not exceed 0.5 NTUs. However, some scientists think this standard is too generous. They want to see the value reduced to 0.1 NTUs.