Here's Why New York City's Water Has Been Tasting Strange, Lately

If you’ve been noticing a slightly odd smell coming from your tap water in recent weeks, you’re not alone. And you’re not crazy.

So, first off, don't freak out — there’s nothing wrong. New York’s water is as safe and refreshing and definitely not poisonous as it’s always been. People who buy bottled water instead of using the stuff from the tap remain money-wasting fools. It's all good.

But the smell you may or may not have noticed — depending on how sensitive your nose is — is a slight boost in the chlorine levels. A few of us around the Voice offices have noticed it, but so have others — especially Brooklyn residents.

The increased chlorine levels are part of a more or less routine adjustment made each year during the warmer months, according to an official at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Chlorine functions as a disinfectant, he said, and as the weather gets hotter, and the water in reservoirs and aqueducts becomes warmer, "it can breed more things that we don’t want to be drinking." A little extra helps keep the water supply free of assorted microbial nastiness. The chlorine that’s added also tends to evaporate more readily in warmer water, so to ensure there’s enough to make it from treatment facilities to taps all over the city, a boost is required.

The D.E.P. official told the Voice that the average “residual” level of chlorine — the amount that actually reaches the taps — is 0.6 milligrams per liter (mg/L). In July, that number ranged from below average, 0.03 mg/L, to well above average at 1.23 mg/L. At some places across the city's distribution area chlorine levels reached more than twice the average.

The official is quick to point out that even the higher levels are far below the maximum level of 4.0 mg/L, as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the chlorine levels are completely safe and most people won’t even notice them. He points out that water is sampled at more than 1,000 stations along its route from reservoirs outside of the city to taps within.

Chlorine is one of several chemicals that are added to New York City water, including fluoride, small amounts of food-grade phosphoric acid, and, in some instances, sodium hydroxide. The phosphoric acid helps keep lead from outdated residential pipes from leaching into drinking water, while the sodium hydroxide helps raise the pH of water in certain regions. All of this is part of the cocktail of chemicals that keeps New York City's drinking water among the best-tasting in the country.

So, mystery solved — that’s why your water has tasted a little funny in the past few weeks.

If you’re not a fan, there are things you can do to help remove the strong chlorine taste. The best approach is just to fill an open-mouthed pitcher and let the water sit in your fridge overnight. You can also set some in a glass in sunlight for about 30 minutes, or pour a glass back and forth between containers about ten times.

You could also stop being a big baby and drink that shit as is. Or better yet, have a beer.


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