The water system in DC is undergoing its annual spring cleaning. During this time, chlorine is temporarily used as a disinfectant instead of chloramine—a less-reactive compound made when chlorinated water is combined with ammonia. Lasting from March 25 to May 6, this change reflects the efforts of DC Water and the Washington Aqueduct to maintain high water quality in Georgetown and other areas in and around D.C.
Along with many other water systems in the U.S. that use chloramine, the Washington Aqueduct undergoes this short-term chemical shift in order to “clean [the] water distribution center and improve water quality,” as their website reads. In addition, DC Water stated that all fire hydrants will be cleaned to promote higher water quality. Compared to chloramine, chlorine typically leaves a stronger chemical taste in water. It is only used briefly because chlorine use presents more risks.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chlorine forms “disinfection byproducts” when interacting with organic matter found in water. While many of these byproducts are not toxic, some are known to be carcinogens—a concerning reality if used year-round.
As regulated by the EPA, DC Water will continue to test for chlorine and chloramine levels in the water, ensuring that these chemical levels are kept within a safe range.
Besides altering the taste and smell of water, no other adverse effects are expected in the area. To combat this inconvenience, DC Water recommends using either faucet or pitcher-style filters. Alternatively, they recommend refrigerating water in an open container, stating on their website that within a few hours, the chlorine taste and smell will disappear. Finally, they suggest that citizens run cold tap water for two to three minutes to dissipate the taste and smell, or five to ten minutes if it has been a few hours since the tap was last used.
For further information, DC Water recommends contacting the Drinking Water Division, which can be reached at their 24-hour hotline number, (202) 612-3400.