Chlorine vs Chloramine | Or How to Safely Add Water to Your Pond

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I stumbled across this article on the web, and thought it did a good job of explaining the difference between Chlorine and Chloramine; and how to handle both in the case of adding water to your pond.

Chlorine vs. Chloramine

Chlorine
In the US, EPA guidelines require that tap water at any faucet contain a minimal chlorine concentration of 0.2 ppm, and stringently limits the concentration of bacteria (which may require more than 0.2 ppm chlorine to keep in check). Because chlorine breaks down over time, the chlorine concentration of the water that comes out of your tap will be lower than that put in at water plant. Thus, the exact concentration at your faucet depends on how far you are from the water plant, how long it takes the water to travel from the water plant to your house, how much chlorine is initially added, etc.
Chlorine at high concentrations is toxic to fish; at lower concentrations, it stresses fish by damaging their gills. Concentrations of as little as 0.2-0.3 ppm kill most fish fairly rapidly. To prevent stress, concentrations as low as 0.003 ppm may be required. Fortunately, chlorine can easily be removed from water by the chemical sodium thiosulfate, readily available at fish stores under various brands. Sodium thiosulfate neutralizes chlorine instantly. Note that there are many ``water treatment'' products that are advertised as ``making tap water safe''. Read labels carefully. Inevitably, the ones that neutralize chlorine all contain sodium thiosulfate, plus other substances that may or may not be useful. If your water only contains chlorine (as opposed to chloramine), sodium thiosulfate is all you need. The most cost-effective treatments use only 1 drop per gallon of water. Most other water treatments are much more expensive in the long-term; they may require a teaspoon of treatment (or more) per gallon!
Chlorine is relatively unstable in water, escaping to the atmosphere on its own. Water left in a bucket (or tank) with adequate water circulation (e.g. filter or airstone) will be free of chlorine in 24 hours or less.
Many netters report that they perform partial water changes without ever treating their tap water to remove chlorine. Keep in mind that even though fish show no APPARENT ill effects from untreated water, that doesn't mean that the chlorine isn't stressing your fish. How much stress depends on how much chlorine is introduced to the tank, which depends on many factors (including the percentage of new water added). Because chlorine removers are so cheap (pennies per usage), the insurance they provide should not be passed up.

Chloramine
One problem with using chlorine to treat water is that it breaks down relatively quickly. Another concern with the use of chlorine is that it can combine with certain organics (that may or may not be present in your water) forming trihalomethanes, a family of carcinogens. Consequently, many water companies have switched from using chlorine to using chloramine. Chloramine, a compound containing both chlorine and ammonia, is much more stable than chlorine.
Chloramine poses two significant headaches for aquarists. First, chlorine-neutralizing chemicals such as sodium thiosulfate only neutralize the chlorine portion of the chloramine, neglecting an even bigger problem: deadly ammonia. The consequences can be devastating to fish. Although a tank's biological filter will (eventually) convert the ammonia to nitrate, the time it takes to do so may be longer than what your fish can tolerate.
The second problem relates to water changes. One of the primary reasons for doing regular water changes is to remove nitrates that build up. If your replacement tap water contains ammonia, you'll be putting nitrogen right back into your tank and it will be impossible to reduce the nitrates below the concentration in your tap water. Fortunately, tap water concentrations are relatively low (1 or 2 ppm); you are more likely to have a much higher concentration of nitrate in your tank.
Chloramine can be safely neutralized through such products as Amquel, which neutralize both the ammonia and chlorine portions of the chloramine molecules. The neutralized ammonia will still be converted to nitrates via a biological filter.
Another method for neutralizing chloramine is to age the water while simultaneously performing biological filtration. For example, get an appropriately-sized (plastic) garbage can, fill it with tap water, dechlorinate it with sodium thiosulfate, and then connect an established biological filter to it. Just as in your tank, the bio filter will convert the ammonia to nitrate, after which it can safely be added to your tank. Note: you must add sodium thiosulfate to neutralize the chlorine; otherwise, the chloramine will kill the bacteria in your biological filter.
Alternatively, the ammonia can removed by filtering the water through zeolite or carbon before adding it to your tank. [Note: folks report mixed success with this. If you have concrete (positive or negative) experience to report, please notify the FAQ maintainers.

After poking around a bit, I don't see a pinned topic on how to prepare your pond water and how to change, top off, overflow your pond water. I'm thinking we've been talking about it all so much lately that perhaps we put our collective noggins together and draft up a topic for pinned proposing.

Things to consider including in the topic?

  1. how to treat your city/well/lake water for your pond
  2. how to know if you have chlorine or chloramine in your city water
  3. aerating the water to raise pH
  4. why to do water changes
  5. types of water changes
  6. how to do water changes
  7. build in safety backups to prevent fatal accidents
 

Mmathis

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Dianne, thank you so much! That was very informative!

All this time I thought our water was only treated with chlorine. Don't have any idea why I never investigated that. Then, a few nights ago I decided to run a VERY slow trickle of water into my QT pool. The largest fish was acting odd, and seemed to fit the picture for ammonia toxicity, and it was too late to be out doing a full water exchange, so did the trickle. Next morning he was perky & looking great! So, I thought, if a slow trickle was good, a "spray" must be even better. Wrong. Within the hour, he was looking mopey again. That's when I decided to check the tap water and it tested at 0.25ppm for ammonia! Whoops! I went back through my water results from last year, and found that when I did my source check, I only tested for pH and KH, so I had no idea that I'd been stressing my fish all this time!

I'd recently purchased a de-chlorination cartridge for the water hose, but it was for chlorine only. I just ordered & received a different one that claims to remove it all. We'll see. I'm away until Friday, so have a sprayer on a timer (for 10 min every 4 hours) to spray the QT since I won't be there to do water checks or exchanges.
 
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I've been looking for a bit of info for about 10 minutes but can't find it. Seems this is as good a place to ask as any. What ppm of chloramine corresponds to what ppm of ammonia? My city says they treat the water with 2-3ppm of chloramine. The one time I tested my tap water right after dechlorinating I found about 0.5 ppm of ammonia (API liquid test kit). Is this the expected value?
 

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Chloramine disassociates naturally over time leaving Ammonium. What did you use for dechlorination? If you are breaking the Chloromine bond chemically, the resulting chemical product(s) will depend on this chemical action.
 
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I used API tap water conditioner. I assume this mostly breaks the bond although it says to use 5x more to neutralize chloramines, so there may be some ammonia bonding bit in it? I did this when setting up a new container pond which I seeded with bacteria from another container pond. I tested regularly and the ammonia never went above .5 ppm, gradually decreasing over the course of a few days.

My main question is does 2-3ppm chloramine correspond to 0.5ppm ammonia. I'm guessing from the molecular weights, it's not too far off and perhaps totally reasonable given the accuracy of my test.
 

Meyer Jordan

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I used API tap water conditioner. I assume this mostly breaks the bond although it says to use 5x more to neutralize chloramines, so there may be some ammonia bonding bit in it? I did this when setting up a new container pond which I seeded with bacteria from another container pond. I tested regularly and the ammonia never went above .5 ppm, gradually decreasing over the course of a few days.

My main question is does 2-3ppm chloramine correspond to 0.5ppm ammonia. I'm guessing from the molecular weights, it's not too far off and perhaps totally reasonable given the accuracy of my test.

There are two types of 'dechlorinators' used in aquaria and ponds. The first type will neutralize the Chlorine but leave the Ammonia; the second type neutralizes both the Chlorine and Ammonia. Interestingly, API tap water conditioner because it contains EDTA tetrasodium salt is the second type. So it is strange that you would have an Ammonia residue after treatment.

I also found it extremely interesting that the MSDS for this product states that is is extremely toxic to aquatic organisms. Sodium Thiosulphate, the main ingredient in this product is also the main ingredient in many 'dechlorinators' presently in use. EDTA tetrasodium salt is also widely in use.

Anyway, if the Ammonia level never gets above 0.50, I would not be greatly concerned.
 
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I've never tried it at the recommended dose for chloramines, only at the dose for chlorine. If I'm reading the ingredients correctly, at the low dose it should break the chlorine bond and leave me some residual ammonia. At the higher dose it will also bind the ammonia (which as you say is not really a concern). Is that what you read too?
 

Meyer Jordan

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There is no indication on the website for this product http://www.apifishcare.com/product.php?id=655#.Vvvz6DHQU2w that Ammonia is neutralized. In fact, the word ammonia does not appear anywhere on this page. So based on this. the belief that this product should neutralize Ammonia is only an assumption.
Manufacturers are a sneaky lot. They manipulate words leading you to believe something that is not really stated.
 
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Sorry, still confused. This product has both sodium thiosulfate and the EDTA salt. My main concern, at this point, is if the sodium thiosulfate will neutralize the chlorine part of my chloramines. Whether it leaves behind a bit of residual ammonia was more an intellectual curiosity.
 

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