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It’s a fact: Disinfection saves lives

DEnver Water Lab tech
Denver Water takes water quality very seriously, conducting thousands of tests every year. Photo credit: Denver Water.

A century ago — and still in many developing countries — people died a quick and horrid death after drinking contaminated water.

They got cholera, typhoid and dysentery. They vomited and cramped and had diarrhea until the end. Then water providers started disinfecting drinking water by adding chlorine. The death rates from those water-borne diseases plummeted.

“Water treatment and disinfection save lives,” said Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, Denver Water’s director of water quality and treatment.

Yet with the good, comes a trace amount of bad. Sometimes, the combination of disinfection chemicals and naturally occurring organics can cause minuscule amounts of byproducts in all drinking water, including bottled water.

Scientists around the world have studied these disinfection byproducts and developed ways to minimize their presence in drinking water. At such small, trace amounts, the chance of someone developing cancer from drinking cleaned water over the course of 70 years is almost negligible.

In developing countries where water treatment processes are not widespread, water-borne illnesses are still a leading cause of death among infants and children.

“We don’t realize how good we have it,” Poncelet-Johnson said. “We worry about the one in a million chance of developing cancer because you actually made it to old age. In countries that don’t disinfect, many kids die before they’re 6.”

Denver Water’s engineers, scientists and technicians work together every day to ensure our treatment plants are filtering out impurities and producing clean, safe drinking water. The water quality is monitored in real time, tested routinely by a state-certified lab, and we issue a water quality report annually for transparency.