Drinking water sources are vulnerable to contamination and must be treated to kill water-borne diseases and other harmful substances. Adding chlorine to the water supply is the most common form of water treatment in the United States, as it is a relatively cost-effective disinfection method, and the treatment continues to work while water travels to reach customers.
Studies show that using or drinking water with small amounts of chlorine does not cause harmful health effects and protects against waterborne diseases such as giardia and cholera. Your local water utility regularly monitors your water supply to make sure that chlorine levels are safe for public consumption. You can read more about how your water utility is managing water disinfection, as well as their compliance with disinfection rules, by obtaining a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report.
Adding chlorine to water may change its taste or smell, and you may find that you prefer chlorinated water to untreated water. However, if the taste or smell of chlorine is unpleasant to you, letting your water sit in the refrigerator overnight in an open container will allow some forms of the chlorine to evaporate and remove the offending taste and odor. Boiling your water for 20 minutes or running your water through a filter can also remove most of the added chlorine.
See the Water Chlorination Fact Sheet for a quick summary of the benefits and common concerns regarding water chlorination. For a more in-depth explanation of water chlorination, check out the Chlorine Chemistry Council’s Drinking Water Chlorination: A Review of Disinfection Practices and Issues.
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral found in soil, water, and air. Fluoride has been shown to prevent tooth decay by strengthening the surface of teeth, which can be eaten away when sugary foods are ingested. In addition to preventing cavities, to a certain extent fluoride can even rebuild the surface of teeth that have already been damaged. All water naturally contains fluoride, although rarely enough to prevent tooth decay. For this reason, it is common for water utilities to supplement the water supply with additional fluoride.
Very few adverse health effects have been linked to community water fluoridation. Fluoride levels in community water supplies are closely monitored by water utilities, and fluoridation is completely safe at regulatory levels. A minor condition called fluorosis, which causes faint white marks on the teeth, is the most common side effect of overexposure to fluoride. It is harmless and primarily caused by using too much toothpaste, not by drinking fluoridated water. Fluoridation has also been shown to save money in communities by decreasing the rate of cavity treatments, as well as reducing the number of work or school days missed due to dental complaints.
If you or another community member has additional questions or concerns about fluoridation, check out I Like My Teeth’s “Common Questions About Community Water Fluoridation”