Continual breakpoint chlorination uses the continual addition of chlorine after bathers have left the pool to oxidise combined chlorine so that all of the total chlorine exists as free chlorine.

Last updated: 09 April 2013

Graphical representation of breakpoint chlorination

Graph of breakpoint chlorination - text description follows image. 
The above graph demonstrates the theory of continuous breakpoint chlorination. On the left vertical axis is the chlorine concentration in mg/L which is zero at the bottom of the axis and increases with height. On the right vertical axis is the ammonia-nitrogen (i.e. ammonia measured as nitrogen) concentration also in mg/L which is zero at the bottom of the axis and increases with height. The bottom horizontal axis represents the ratio of chlorine (Cl2) to ammonia (NH2) by weight which is zero on the left and increases to the right. The bottom horizontal axis also represents time and increases from left to right. There are three inter-related lines on the graph:

  • ΣN CONC: (sigma ammonia-nitrogen concentration) represents the concentration of the sum of all forms of ammonia-nitrogen in the pool
  • total chlorine applied: the constant dose of chlorine being introduced into the pool
  • measured chlorine residual: the measured total chlorine residual in the pool.

The breakpoint curve is a graphical representation of chemical relationship that exists with constant addition of chlorine to swimming pool water containing a small amount of ammonia-nitrogen. This graph represents a swimming pool where bathing has ceased and no further ammonia-nitrogen is introduced into the pool. During an overnight period sodium hypochlorite is added at a constant rate. This curve has three zones.

Zone 1

Staring from the left side of the graph; there is already a concentration of ammonia-nitrogen (ΣN CONC) in the pool from bathers. Chlorine has been allowed to fall to zero and Total Applied Chlorine and Measured Chlorine Residual are both zero. Chlorine is then added at a constant rate. The principal reaction in Zone 1 is the reaction between chlorine and the ammonium ion. This reaction results in a Measured Total Chlorine of only monochloramine to the hump in the curve. The hump occurs, theoretically, at chlorine to ammonia-nitrogen weight ratio of 5:1. This ratio indicates the point where the reacting chlorine and ammonia-nitrogen molecules are present in solution in equal numbers. Monochloramine does not readily degrade.

Zone 2

The breakpoint phenomenon occurs in this zone which is also known as the chloramine destruction zone. As the weight ratio exceeds 5:1, some of the monochloramine starts reacting with further addition of chlorine to form dichloramine, which is about twice as germicidal as monochloramine. A pure dichloramine residual has a noticeable disagreeable taste and odour, while monochloramine does not. Total Chlorine Applied is still increasing and both the Concentration of ammonia-nitrogen and Measured Chlorine Residual decrease rapidly. This rapid decrease occurs because the dichloramine is reacting immediately with additional hypochlorous acid in a series of destruction reactions to form volatile compounds and other by-products such as nitrogen gas, nitrate and chloride. Therefore, ammonia and chlorine are consumed in the reactions and lost from the pool. Thus, additional chlorine is required to destroy ammonia and chloramines.

The breakpoint (Point A) is the point of the lowest concentration of Measured Chlorine Residual where nuisance chlorine residuals remain and where ammonia-nitrogen is not detected. The nuisance chlorine residuals are mainly organic chloramines which cannot be oxidised any further by reacting with hypochlorous acid.

Zone 3

Zone 3 is to the right of the breakpoint (Point A) and is where a free chlorine residual will appear. The total residual consists of the nuisance residuals plus free chlorine. If trichloramine is formed, it will appear in this zone. In practice it has been found the most pleasant water for bathing will occur if more than 85% of the total chlorine is free chlorine.

In reality, ammonia-nitrogen does not stay static but is continually added while the pool is open to the public. To achieve breakpoint chlorination, chlorination must continue after the pool has been closed to the public to ensure oxidation of the additional chloramines every night.

The shape of the breakpoint curve is affected by contact time, temperature, concentration of chlorine and ammonia, and pH. Higher concentrations of the chemicals increase the speed of the reactions.

Further information

Public Swimming Pool and Spa Pool Document provides detailed explanations and information on disinfection, pool chemistry, risk assessment and other issues relevant to swimming pool operation. Appendix A provides more detail on the other processes to achieve breakpoint chlorination.

Public swimming pool issues may be discussed with an environmental health officer at a local Public Health Unit, or at your local council.

In NSW call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.

Current as at: Tuesday 9 April 2013
Contact page owner: Environmental Health