Treatment Systems for Household Water Supplies: Chlorination
Fred Bergsrud, Bruce Seelig and Russell Derickson
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What Impurities Will Chlorination Remove?
Chlorination is a water treatment that destroys disease-causing bacteria, nuisance bacteria, parasites and other organisms. Chlorination also oxidizes iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide so they can be filtered out.
Disease-causing bacteria can infect humans and animals in several ways. Fecal waste from an infected host frequently carries organisms which cause diseases such as typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, bacillary dysentery, infectious hepatitis and others. Disease-causing organisms are transmitted from host to host in many ways including through a contaminated water supply. Human and/or livestock populations concentrated together with improperly located or constructed wells may result in contamination of water supplies by sewage or fecal wastes.
There is no substitute for a safe and sanitary water supply. If your water supply becomes contaminated, elimination of the source of contamination is the most permanent solution. Continuous chlorination to kill disease-causing bacteria in a contaminated water source should be a temporary measure used only until you can develop a new, sanitary water supply.
How to Test Your Water
Most water testing for chlorination purposes is done to detect the presence of coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria testing is used as an indicator of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria. Tests for the presence of coliform bacteria may be made by the most probable number (MPN) method or the membrane filter (MF) method. If no coliform bacteria are detected in a test, the MPN will be reported as less than 2.2 and the MF as zero. If any bacteria are present, the number will be stated.
If bacteria are present, you should thoroughly shock chlorinate the water supply and system. After chlorinating you should wait 2 to 7 days after all chlorine has been removed from the system and then collect a sample for retesting. If this retest does not detect the presence of coliform bacteria it is likely that the bacteria are not entering on a continuous basis. However, some authorities suggest that at least 3 consecutive tests spaced 3 to 6 months apart should report no bacteria presence before resuming normal testing intervals. If repeated tests show the presence of bacteria, you may have a continuous source of contamination.
Detergents, nitrates and coliform bacteria are all indicators of well contamination. None of these indicators are necessarily harmful but they do suggest that disease may occur if conditions are favorable. If a test indicates that your water is contaminated you should locate the source of pollution and eliminate it from your water supply.
Testing to detect iron and manganese is not normally done until these minerals have been detected either by sight or by taste. Once iron and/or manganese have been determined to be present at a nuisance level, testing is needed to select the proper treatment method.
What are the Advantages of Chlorination?
What are the Disadvantages of Chlorination?
Trihalomethanes (THMs) are organic chemicals that may form when chlorine is used to treat water supplies that contain humic compounds. Humic compounds form as a part of the decomposition of organic materials such as leaves, grass, wood or animal wastes. Because THMs are very seldom associated with groundwater, they are primarily a concern where surface water supplies are used.
Lifetime consumption of water supplies with THMs at a level greater than 0.10 milligrams per liter is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a potential cause of cancer. THMs can be removed from drinking water through use of an activated carbon filter.
The Chlorination Process
To chlorinate a water supply properly it is necessary to understand chlorine demand, free available chlorine residual and contact time.
Neither shock nor continuous chlorination should be used as a substitute for a safe water supply. Wells should be located and constructed in accordance with existing state well codes and accepted sanitary standards. The water system must also be properly constructed to prevent bacterial contamination between the well and the point of use.
Two methods for chlorinating water are:
Shock Chlorination Procedures
For shock chlorination, an initial chlorine concentration of 50 to 100 parts per million (ppm) with a contact time of at least 6 hours is recommended. To obtain a concentration of 100 ppm you need to know (or estimate) the diameter of your well and the depth of water in the well. Note: Do not use the total depth of the well. The depth of water is the distance from the water surface to the bottom of the well. Your well driller may have this information or you can determine it yourself by lowering a weighted string to the bottom of the well. Table 1 shows the amounts of chlorine bleach to add for an initial concentration of about 100 ppm.
Any type of laundry bleach containing 5.25% hypochlorite solution will work. Because bleach is corrosive to metals it should be diluted in the ratio of 12 parts of water to 1 part bleach prior to adding to the well water. These corrosive properties also mean that care should be taken in handling to avoid contact with skin and especially eyes. Rubber gloves and goggles are recommended when handling chlorine solutions. If you are exposed, flush repeatedly with clean water. This should be done immediately after exposure.
Follow the steps below to properly shock chlorinate your well:
Step 1. Determine the amount of bleach and dilution water to use (see Table 1). For example if you have a 4 inch diameter well with 40 feet of water, Table 1 recommends using 1/4 quart of bleach. To dilute, use 3 quarts of water (12 times 1/4 quart).
Step 2. Remove the cap from your well. There are many types of well caps. If you have questions or need instructions to remove the cap, contact your well driller.
Step 3. Pour the mixture of chlorine and water down the well. Try to coat the casing (sides of the well) as you pour. To get good distribution in the well, attach a hose to a nearby hydrant or faucet and put the discharge end of the hose in the well. Then start the pump to recirculate chlorinated water back into the well. The recirculating water should have a strong odor of chlorine if the chlorine demand has been met.
Step 4. Run water through the service lines in the house until you detect the odor of chlorine at each tap. Make sure you run the chlorinated water through every line in the system. You may also want to flush toilets. Note: If you have an activated carbon filter in the system, temporarily remove the cartridge or bypass the filter completely.
Step 5. Let the chlorinated water stand in the system for at least 6 hours, preferably 8 to 12 hours.
Step 6. Flush out the system beginning with the well. Use a hose connected to an outside hydrant and discharge the water to an appropriate waste system. Note: This large volume of chlorinated water should not be put into a septic system or onto delicate plants or lawns. After water from the well is free from chlorine odor, flush the rest of the piping system. Draining this volume of water into your septic system should be acceptable.
Single-pipe Packer Jet Water Systems
If your well has a single-pipe packer jet water system you can disinfect it thoroughly only by removing the drop pipe from the well. Add the chlorine solution into the jet pump by disconnecting the tube at the air charging device and placing it in the chlorine solution (see Figure 1). The solution will be drawn through the pump, the jet fittings, the upper portion of the well, the drop pipe and the distribution system.
Figure 1. Tube from Air-Charging Device is Used to Introduce Chlorine Solution into Water System. (Note: This process does not adequately disinfect the well.)
Because there is a foot valve at the bottom of the drop pipe, very little, if any, chlorine solution can enter the well below the packer leathers (see Figure 2). Therefore you must pull the drop pipe to disinfect the well thoroughly. With a packer jet water pump, chlorinate the water system before you remove the jet fitting from the well.
Figure 2. Packer-type Jet Used for Small Wells (2-4 inch).
If your hot water smells worse than the cold, you may want to add a small amount of bleach directly to the hot water heater or drain the hot water heater before chlorinating. Turn off the hot water heater first-chlorine is not as effective in hot waterand always turn off the heater before draining the tank.
Depending on the age and condition of your well, you may want to shock chlorinate the well up to 10 times before abandoning the well. If you must use the present contaminated water supply until the new supply can be developed, be sure to follow a process of continuous chlorination.
Continuous Chlorination Procedures
Continuous chlorination is a necessity for surface water supplies such as ponds, springs, lakes or cisterns. You can use chemical feed pumps to inject chlorine into your system. Wire the feed pump to the water pump pressure switch so that the pumps operate simultaneously. Other proportioning devices are available to feed chemicals into the water. If you are chlorinating to control disease-causing bacteria, you will need an alarm device that indicates when the chlorine solution supply needs replenishing.
Because effective organism kill is a function of contact time, the chlorine solution should be injected into the water as close to the source as possible. Adequate contact time for disease-causing bacterial kill depends upon free chlorine residual, water temperature, water pH (acidity), and the specific organism. Continuous chlorination typically uses a chlorine residual of 3 to 5 ppm. This level is considerably higher than that of municipalities (0.2 to 0.5 ppm) where the large distribution system provides a long contact time. This level of residual chlorine may cause a taste and/or odor that is objectionable.
At the 3 to 5 ppm level, adequate contact time for surface water supplies is in the range of 2 to 7 minutes to develop the proper bacterial kill factor. For well water, a contact time of 2 to 3 minutes is normally sufficient. In any case where disease-causing bacteria are involved, tests should be conducted after installation and continue on a regular basis to insure a safe water supply.
Research has shown that there is no dependable contact time calculation that can be used to test the pressure tank of the water system. The piping in home water systems usually provides little contact time. The time between the pump and the nearest faucet is usually one minute or less. A coil of plastic pipe can be used to increase contact time. The length of pipe required depends on the pipe diameter and the flow rate. For example, to achieve a 4-minute contact time with a 10 gallon per minute flow rate, you would need 128 feet of 3 inch nominal diameter pipe or 480 feet of 1.5 inch nominal diameter pipe. Your pipe supplier should be able to assist you in selecting the proper size and length for your required contact time and flow rate.
Continuous chlorination is expensive and requires frequent and intelligent management. It should not be considered for disease-causing bacteria control until other alternatives have been fully explored.
Shock chlorination and/or continuous chlorination are useful and effective methods to destroy disease-causing bacteria and other nuisance organisms in water supplies. Chlorination is not a substitute for a safe pure water supply and should be used only when other options have been thoroughly investigated.
Whom to Contact for Further Information
For further information contact your local county Extension Office or state health department. Additional information can be found in other publications in this series:
Treatment Systems For Household Water Supplies:
Fred Bergsrud, Water Quality Coordinator, Minnesota Extension Service; Russell Derickson, Extension Associate in Water and Natural Resources, South Dakota Extension Service; Bruce Seelig, Water Quality Specialist, North Dakota Extension Service.
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This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Extension Service, under special project number 90-EWQI-1-9220.
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