Doug and Eileen Leunig have a simple and reasonable philosophy about exposure to toxic chemicals: avoid what you can and minimize what you can't avoid. The two Caterpillar Inc. retirees are fine art photographers who travel extensively. When home in Peoria, they want their tap water to be as pure as possible and that includes showering in chlorine-free water. Chlorine exposure, they concluded, was something they could reasonably avoid.
Doug and Eileen Leunig have a simple and reasonable philosophy about exposure to toxic chemicals: avoid what you can and minimize what you can't avoid.
The two Caterpillar Inc. retirees are fine art photographers who travel extensively. When home in Peoria, they want their tap water to be as pure as possible and that includes showering in chlorine-free water.
Chlorine exposure, they concluded, was something they could reasonably avoid.
"I was a swimmer at Richwoods High School, and I virtually lived in chlorine nine to 10 months a year," Doug Leunig said. "I always understood chlorine is a toxic gas and people die from chlorine leaks."
He never realized it can be absorbed through the skin and inhaled as steam from the shower, he said.
When he was researching water purification systems for his home, he compared reverse osmosis with filtration systems and decided to go with a Wellness water filtration system.
"Most of the chemicals we get from water are not from drinking it but from absorption through our skin," he said.
Jeff Robins, owner and pharmacist at Essential Wellness Pharmacy in Peoria, said chlorine that is vaporized into steam during a hot shower is breathed into the lungs.
"For people with under-functioning thyroid glands, this can be significant," Robins said, explaining that chlorine binds with iodine and prevents the body from adequately using iodine. Iodine helps detoxify the body by removing mercury, fluorides, chlorides and bromides, Robins said.
"Yes, chlorine does a great job killing bacteria in water, but there are other ways to keep the swimming pool and hot tub clean," he said.
However, Dr. Michael Plewa, a genetic toxicologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana, says chlorine in water is not a problem and, in fact, is one of the most important public health achievements of the 20th century. Disinfecting water is critical to public health.
When Plewa travels outside the country and is exposed to public water systems that do not use chlorine, he boils water before brushing his teeth, he said.
One way to visualize microbes on the walls of water pipes is to recollect a vase of flowers with water that has remained in the vase too long and the walls become slimy with biofilm, he said. A flush of chlorine can disinfect and knock down the microbes.
"All disinfectants have a dark side. While these agents kill pathogens, they also create disinfection byproducts," he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates 11 of the disinfection byproducts (DBPs) of chlorine out of a total of 600 to 700 DBPs.
"Work in our lab shows there are many DBPs more toxic than those that are regulated," he said, but they are in smaller amounts, which mitigates their toxicity. He said volatilization of shower water through steam provides another route of exposure through breathing, but he showers every morning and is not worried.
Plewa does use a charcoal filter for drinking water in his home but cautioned that it must be changed regularly according to the manufacturers recommendations or else it becomes counterproductive by leeching contaminants back into the water at even higher levels.
Plewa said he is a basic scientist, not a regulator, which can require a combination of science and politics. However, he believes regulators and politicians in Europe were correct to ban use of the agricultural pesticide Atrazine, which tends to run off farm fields and contaminate public water supplies. Seven European Union countries have banned Atrazine in drinking water: France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Austria and Italy. Plewa said he believes Atrazine levels in drinking water are too high.
Karen Cotton, spokeswoman for Illinois American Water Co., said chlorine is important in water treatment and her company complies with all EPA regulations. She said levels of Atrazine in local water are below EPA safety levels.
"We expect EPA regulations will get stricter, and we have a plan to upgrade," she said.
The bottom line for Doug and Eileen Leunig is they're happy with their home water filtration. The system also functions like a water softener. The water tastes better, makes a better cup of coffee and is less harsh and drying on their skin, especially in winter.
However, they are still concerned about chemicals in the environment and the overall safety of water, noting that a growing problem in the United States and worldwide is pharmaceuticals in public water supplies.
"People perceive water as safe, and it's not," Doug Leunig said. "We installed this filtration system and feel we made a good decision. The system heightens our awareness of the importance of clean water."
Clare Howard can be reached at (309) 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.