Why does mine stink and hers doesn’t?

I can just hear some of you now. “Tom, are you turning to adult-oriented content?” Of course not, but this seemed like an attention-grabbing headline, so I took poetic license. Actually, this little ditty was motivated by a conversation I overheard at a local bar. Two women next to me were complaining about the chlorine smell in their water. One of the conversants commented that her water always smells of chlorine while her friend’s had no such odor. She pondered as to if there was a problem and whether she needed to report this to the local utility. This phenomenon has perplexed many over the years, even with some experiencing different intensities of chlorine odor in their own water on different days. Is something awry in the water system?

Not at all. The explanation requires a bit of understanding of chlorine chemistry and physiology. Let’s take a quick look!

  • Water, if left to itself, naturally grows bacteria, algae, and other organisms
  • Chlorine, because of its low cost, availability and effectiveness is the universal choice for controlling organisms
  • Chlorine is a gas at room temperature and will evaporate into the air over time
  • The EPA has determined a safe, minimum level that our drinking water must have

Now let’s understand the difference in odor intensity. Since chlorine evaporates, the does in the water tower has to be sufficient so that by the time it gets to the furthest user, the water is still safe. If you live close to the water tower you will logically get more chlorine than the person who lives further away. Your dose is still safe, it’s just more than the other guy gets.



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