Chlorine is widely used. It kills both good and bad bacteria and fungi, as well as some viruses and is added to tap water, spas and swimming pools for this purpose. It is also used as a bleaching agent in the production of paper and cloth. It is used in cleaning products and in the preparation of chlorides, chlorinated solvents, pesticides, polymers, synthetic rubbers, and refrigerants. Other uses are in medicines, antiseptics, insecticides, agrochemicals, foodstuffs, paints and plastics. In this article, I’m mostly concerned with the water that comes out of the faucets in our buildings.
First, I discuss what I found out about the nature of chlorine and how it’s a manmade highly unstable reactive substance. I throw in a little about the corporate involvement of the widespread distribution of this chemical. Next, I discuss the science I found about the negative effects chlorine can have on health and why I say that chlorine is a poison. And finally, I give some tips for avoiding it.
This is a complex subject and an up-to-date book along the lines of this article would be in order. There aren’t many books written about chlorine and the first two I found hail chlorine as a life-saver and give ideas on how to develop the industry. The problem with this mainstream view and many other aspects of modern life is the context in which these things are perceived. With chlorine, it is seen as a way to make drinking water safe, but the real problem is why drinking water is unsafe in the first place. In other words, instead of killing off the life in the water which may be out of balance because of pollution, it would be better to clean up our act and not pollute it in the first place. I believe that killing all life forms in our drinking water with poison is not a very clever solution. In fact, I believe that killing all life forms in our drinking water is not a good idea at all. But in this article, I focus on chlorine, not the quality of the water.
A few inaccuracies I came across:
“In high concentrations chlorine can kill us. When the concentrations are low it kills bugs but leaves us unharmed.” I’m afraid that’s just not true. Fatalities are expected at 1 part in a thousand chlorine in air (or sometimes at even lower concentrations). But even at lower concentrations, chlorine harms our health which I discuss below. Chlorine Kills Germs Fast and People Slowly.
“The skin does not absorb chlorine well” I wonder where the chlorine went when I put my hand in a jar of water for a few seconds and then came up with a negative chlorine test. In my fingernails?
Clorox bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, but not chlorine. See below for explanation of why this is inaccurate.
We’ve all heard of chlorine. It’s the stuff that’s added to swimming pools to kill germs that causes hair and skin to become dry, eyes to get bloodshot and body and bathing suit to smell like, ahh, chlorine. It’s the stuff that’s used to ensure that the water supply to homes, recreational buildings and offices is clean and safe to drink with traces left over at the end to protect us. It’s also the sanitising component of a couple of other well-known disinfectants. But what is it? As it turns out, it comes in many forms and packages, some of which I think are important to discuss in order to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with here.
1. Chlorine, the Chemical Element (Cl)
Chlorine is an element with the chemical symbol Cl and atomic number 17. Elemental chlorine was discovered by heating pyrolusite (MnO2) with an acid called hydrogen chloride. For a brief history, click here. It forms compounds with almost all of the elements and is abundantly found in many compounds known as chloride ions. It is not found free in nature as it combines readily with nearly all other elements. Chlorine occurs in nature mainly as common salt/sodium chloride (NaCl), carnallite [ KMgCl2.6(H20) ], and sylvite (KCl).
2. Chlorine, the Diatomic Molecule, Dichlorine (Cl2)
I repeat, chlorine does not appear in nature in elemental form. It is produced under standard conditions as a water soluble yellow-green gas (Cl2). It is one electron short of having a noble gas electron configuration and is, therefore, very reactive. Dangerous and acidic, the chlorine in gas form is 100% available. As a weapon, it is known as bertholite and was used as the first gaseous chemical warfare agent in Ypres, Belgium during World War I.
In order to produce chlorine gas (Cl2), chemical companies produce an oxidation-reduction (redox) reaction by passing an electrical current through saturated salt brine in a salt bridge. This electrolysis separates the gaseous chlorine (Cl2), from the sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and hydrogen gas. Chlorine is manufactured electrolytically by the use of the diaphragm, mercury cell, and/or membrane cells process.
Apparently, elemental chlorine in solid form has a structure of chlorine hydrate (Cl2·H2O). But obviously that’s chlorine hydrate, not chlorine.
3. Free Chlorine (HOCl)
Free chlorine, also referred to as free available chlorine (FAC), is defined as the sum of chlorine gas dissolved in water, hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid (Cl2 + H2O
HCl + HClO) with the molecule HOCl. Free chlorine oxidises and kills microscopic organisms (and in large enough quantity, large organisms too, including people).
Natural Organic Matter (NOM) and free-chlorine can form trihalomethanes which have adverse affects on health and I discuss this later.
The Palintest DPD1 tablets I used in my experiment measure free chlorine residual as milligrams per litre (parts per million) when used with the Palintest Pooltest 3 Photometer.
4. Super Chlorine (C3O3N3Cl2Na)
Used at my workplace, I’d like to mention Fi-clor Spa, the so-called dissolving chlorine granules that contain 55% available chlorine. The manufacturer claims that the chlorine in this product is also stabilised so that it is not destroyed by sunlight. They refer to it as a superchlorinator. However, stabilising refers to the combining of isocyanuric acid with chlorine to protect it from UV rays, which drastically reduces its effectiveness. As a matter of fact, Fi-clor Spa contains Sodium Dichloroisocyanarate Dihydrate (C3O3N3Cl2Na). When added to water (H2O), the chlorine atoms hydrolyze from the rest of the molecule forming free chlorine (HOCl). As you can see by looking at the formula: C3O3N3Cl2Na +H2O = HOCl, there are a lot of chemicals unaccounted for in the total. This is why I think this subject is so complicated.
5. Cloramine (NH2Cl)
In an effort to move away from using chlorine, which is a nuisance at best because of its reactivity, cloramine, NH2Cl, is sometimes used to disinfect drinking water. Chloramines are formed when chlorine and ammonia are mixed together. Chloramine – specifically monochloramine is more stable than free chlorine and doesn’t dissipate as quickly. I found some interesting information about this chemical compound on the Citizens Concerned About Chloramines (CCAC) from the San Francisco Bay Area, California website. They say that “some disinfection byproducts of chloramine are even more toxic than those of chlorine, i.e,. iodoacids” and can generally be as dangerous as chlorine, especially when taking a shower.
6. Chlorine Dioxide (ClO2)
Very toxic as well as an oxidising agent, corrosive and dangerous for the environment (nature), chlorine dioxide is also used to treat drinking water. “Chlorine dioxide (ClO2) is a neutral compound of chlorine in the +IV oxidation state.” It is most commonly used as a pre-oxidant before chlorination to destroy natural water impurities. These so-called impurities are to blame for production of trihalomethanes, so must be zapped at any cost.
Further, it is known for being a highly selective, quick and effective biocide, especially against the Legionella gram negative bacterium. It is reputed to be less corrosive than chlorine. A by-product of chlorine dioxide is chlorite.
Chlorine dioxide is manufactured by using sodium chloride to make sodium chlorate and adding sulfuric acid to it with water.
7. Sodium Hypochlorite (Liquid Chlorine), aka Bleach
Sodium hypochlorite is the most commonly used bleaching agent. It is manufactured by bubbling chlorine gas through a dilute sodium hydroxide solution (caustic soda):
Cl2 (g) + 2 NaOH (aq) → NaCl (aq) + NaClO (aq) + H2O (l)
“The resulting yellow liquid yields 15% available chlorine, but the concentration is very unstable and within two weeks, the available-chlorine level will drop to approximately 12.5% and after 30 days it can drop to as low as 9%. Sunlight and high temperatures can increase the rate of degradation. Besides the low concentration of available chlorine, sodium hypochlorite also greatly increases total dissolved solids and has an extremely high pH of 13. Neutralizing the pH requires approximately 1 part muriatic acid per 8 parts liquid chlorine (http://www.rhtubs.com/chlorine.htm).”
One big bleach manufacturer claims to have an extremely high amount of chlorine in it, while another boasts of none.
Domestos bleach is manufactured by Unilever. It claims that its power is due to the high availability of chlorine (nominally 100,000 ppm, compared with 50,000 or less for other domestic bleaches). This is unbelievable. Another reference said that about 1000 ppm can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas.
While some in the west are starting to use composting loos, “Domestos has decided to play its part in helping the revolution in sanitation become real. For this reason the brand started the Domestos Toilet Academies programme together with the World Toilet Organization.” Get a toilet and need bleach. BTW, I use baking soda and vinegar to clean my toilet.
“Domestos kills all known germs everywhere, making it a must-have, to keep your home hygienic.” When dissolved in water it will slowly decompose, releasing chlorine, oxygen and sodium and hydroxide ions.
4 NaClO + 2 H2O → 4 Na+ + 4 OH- + 2 Cl2 + O2
Domestos makes no bones about it. This bleach kills the microscopic organisms indiscriminately and releases toxic substances into the air as well.
Clorox, the maker of the well-known American bleach proudly claims on their website that their bleach starts and ends with sodium chloride, common table salt. “In 2011, Clorox completed its transition of all U.S. bleach manufacturing operations from using chlorine to high-strength bleach as a raw material.”
Clorox bleach contains sodium hypochlorite (see ingredients list here). As I explained above, chlorine is needed to make sodium hypochlorite. So the Clorox company is not being very honest when insinuating that it’s bleach is as innocent as table salt. After all, it’s the chlorine that does the job of bleaching! Otherwise, folk would just buy salt for cleaning purposes. Good idea!
As a matter of fact, bleach can be very dangerous, especially if mixed with other things often found in the house like vinegar. Mixing bleach and vinegar causes chlorine vapour.
As a by the way, some of the other Clorox ventures include Brita water filters and Burt’s Bees natural beauty products, as well as lots of other disinfecting products, (see the Clorox website). These products are designed to counteract the harmful effects of chlorine in tap water or are further uses of chlorine for cleaning and killing microbes, especially in the healthcare industry (where one is likely to end up if exposed to large doses of chlorine or persistently exposed to lower doses).
Water Quality Reports
The amount of chlorine in the form of free cholorine that is in one’s tap water varies widely which I show in a few UK and US examples below. The US law which mandates that all community water systems be adequately disinfected is the Safe Drinking Water Act and the UK has a similar mandate. Chlorine is added to water for disinfection (killing all microbes) and to reduce the risk of contamination (microscopic life forms returning) while it’s being distributed. Chlorine is present in most disinfected drinking-water at concentrations of 0.2–1 mg/litre (3) (World Health Organisation (WHO), 1996). As a by the way, chlorine will not reduce the risk of contamination by chemicals, only increase this risk (go figure).
South East Water (UK) advises that they add chlorine to maintain the water’s bacteriological quality (meaning none or next to none). They claim to abide by strict limits, but if you are near a treatment works or the demand and therefore the flow of water is high (such as early evening), then the concentration will be higher than at time of lower demand. For 2011, chlorine was listed as Residual Disinfectant - Free with a range from 0.01 to 0.65 mg/L. It further states that there is no legal limit to the amount of chlorine that can remain in the water when it reaches our homes.
Although I live in the South East of England, the free chlorine level in my water when tested on 9 April 2013 was 1.2 mg/L, nearly twice the maximum in the normal water supply in the area. The reason for this is that I live in one of two healthcare buildings especially designed for immunosuppressed residents, although staff live in the buildings as well. The water supply goes from the mains water into a big water tank in one building and this supplies both buildings. The water in the tank is further treated with chlorine including an annual top-up with an initial concentrate of 60 ppm of chlorine and a final concentrate of 50 ppm.
Anglian Water (UK) average chlorine concentration for this Public Water Supply Zone from January 2012 to December 2012 was 0.01 to 0.12 mg/L with an average of 0.03 mg/L free chlorine. This drinking water supply is chloraminated. The chlorine level is low, but perhaps the pesticides from the conventional farms in the area make up the difference. A pesticide total of 0.5 mg/L is allowed by law.
Oxford, Alabama (USA) reports that in 2012 there was 4 ppm of chlorine in the water supply. They explain that ppm (parts per million is the same as milligrams per litre, mg/L). I suppose in an effort to make this seem like a small amount, they further explain that parts per million corresponds to one minute in two years, a single penny in $10,000 and one inch in 16 miles. This is high, but as a matter of fact “the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines allow for up to 5 mg of chlorine per litre (mg/L) of drinking water” which is based on the maximum recommended by the WHO.
New York City (USA) has in-depth reports available online including information about the installation of a facility to use ultraviolet light to disinfect the water along with chlorine. For 2011, the amount of free chlorine ranged from 0.01 -1.74 mg/L with an average of 0.63 mg/L.
In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a maximum limit for chlorine in drinking water of 4.0 mg/L. This is 33% higher than the recommended amount of chlorine for swimming pools and spas. Nova Scotia, Canada has a similar requirement with a minimum free chlorine residual of 0.2 mg/L and a maximum of 4 mg/L at any time.
Health Effects of Chlorine
Medline Plus advises about chlorine poisoning. It says that chlorine reacts with water in and out of the body to form hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid which are both extremely poisonous.
Symptoms of chlorine poisoning may include breathing difficulty, throat swelling and water filling the lungs. Even at lower concentrations, the respiratory system and eyes can be irritated.
Just as it does in a pool of water, the pH balance of the water in the blood will change when chlorine gets in which could lead to damage of all the body organs. Chlorine goes directly into the blood stream when inhaled. In fact, the whole body is at risk of damage with chlorine exposure. I break down the damage as follows:
Premature Aging – such as damage to skin which leads to premature wrinkling and dryness.
Gut Disbiosis/Immune system damage/Damage to digestive system
The writer of a recent post on the Food Renegade blog speculated that gut dysbiosis may be induced or made worse by chlorine exposure because of the strong connection between asthma, acne, autoimmune conditions which may be aggravated by chlorine exposure, and the health of our gut flora. Chlorine reacting with the bacteria in the gut which starts in the mouth is inevitable.
Damage to the liver, kidney and lungs – as the organs that are involved in detoxing, they will be prone to damage if overworked by too much or too many toxic chemicals such as chlorine.
Cancer – Links have been shown to bladder and urinary cancer, pancreatic cancer, rectal and colon cancer, breast cancer in women, and brain cancer.
Heart Disease - Dr. Joseph Price wrote about his theory that chlorine can cause heart attacks in his book Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine (1969). In fact he wrote, “but nothing, can negate the incontrovertible fact that the basic cause of atherosclerosis and resulting clinical entities such as heart attacks and the most common forms of stroke is chlorine---the chlorine contained in “treated” municipal drinking water!” I think that it is common sense to deduce that chlorine which is an oxidant is combated when it enters our bodies by cholesterol, an antioxidant. Further, it is easy to imagine that as an oxidizing toxic substance, when it gets in the blood stream, chlorine is likely to damage the endothelial lining, cause plaque buildup and inflammation. And this is what leads to heart attacks. For further information, please see Dr Natasha McBride’s book, Put Your Heart in Your Mouth (2007).
Nervous System damage/fatigue - Toxic chemicals can cause damage to the nervous system and brain. Chlorine is a toxic chemical, and in this case, a neurotoxin. “Neurotoxicity is a cause of brain damage. Common symptoms can include problems with memory, concentration, reaction time, sleep, thinking, language, as well as depression, confusion, personality changes, fatigue, and numbness of the hands and feet.” Lots of diseases related to this are on the link on the quote.
Reproductive issues – Chlorine can cross the placental barrier.
The problem is that chlorine is corrosive to living organisms at a cellular level and we are comprised of lots of cells. Chlorine converts to acids in water and although they are weak acids, they are strong enough to do damage to many life forms. Specifically, chlorine causes “hydrogen to split from water in moist tissue, resulting in the release of nascent oxygen and hydrogen chloride which produce corrosive tissue damage,” and with the production of hypochlorous acid, destroys cell structure during the oxidation process.
“This chlorine molecule easily enters micro organisms through their cell walls and kills the organisms by destroying the sulfur groups on the cell's enzymes, causing the cell's metabolism to stop, resulting in the cell's death. Not only does chlorine kill bacteria, it does it very quickly. When chlorine enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing, or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce acids. The acids are corrosive and damage cells in the body on contact.” Notice, this quote does not refer to any specific amount of chlorine. The body must put up a defense reaction to the invasion of this poison which will cause stress and have a limit to what can be dealt with. Damage from each exposure of chlorine will need attention by the body for repair.
From Wiki: hypochlorous acid reacts with a wide variety of biomolecules, including DNA, RNA, fatty acid groups, cholesterol and proteins. I leave this for the keen to ponder and investigate.
But that’s not the end of the story, although I’m nearly done. Besides the dangers posed by chlorine itself, there are by-products from chlorine doing its killing job that are just as toxic to us humans, if not more so. These chemical by-products are referred to as organo-chlorides, trihalomethanes (THM’s, chloroform, bromoform, bromodichloromethane, and chlorodibromomethane), chloroform gas, MX, total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and haloacetic acids (HAA5). These products are suspected to be carcinogenic in humans. They are formed when natural organic matter and chlorine products are mixed. THM’s can cause miscarriages, malignant tumors in the digestive system and liver cancers.
Chlorine reacts with a human's hair and skin because hair and skin are made from protein (Reaction with protein amino groups). Once the chlorine reacts with the hair and skin, it becomes chemically bonded.
Inhaling chlorinated water vapors exposes you to Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) and Disinfection By-Products (DBPs). These compounds can be incredibly dangerous to the delicate tissues in the lungs.
Chlorine reacts with a human's hair and skin because hair and skin are made from protein (Reaction with protein amino groups). Once the chlorine reacts with the hair and skin, it becomes chemically bonded.
Please see also this interesting video: Dangers of Chlorine.
It might be interesting to find out what the chlorine level is in your water. But whether it’s high or low, if it’s present, I would like to suggest taking a few precautions.
Don’t take as many baths or showers and take more baths than showers. It is easy to inhale the chlorine in the steam from the shower.
Install a water filter. I put a cheap inline one on my shower. It is only effective up to 90% because of the rate of flow but it’s better than nothing. It contains activated carbon which neutralises the chlorine by converting it into sodium chloride (salt).
Use baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) in your bath. Baking soda effectively removes chlorine and other chemicals from hair.
Go to a nearby spring water source and collect water to take sponge baths.
Do a dry body brush cleaning as an alternative.
Hydrogen peroxide will neutralise chlorine. Add 2 ml hydrogen peroxide for every gallon of water you are purifying Cl2 + H2O2 → O2 + 2HCl. Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/504029-how-to-purify-water-with-hydrogen-peroxide/#ixzz2S8MnYauG.
Apply oil to your skin before bathing or swimming in chlorinated water. Oil acts as a barrier to chlorine. I think coconut oil and olive oil are good, but I need to verify this.
That’s all for now folks. Thanks for reading and good luck with your efforts to de-chlorinate your life.
Photo credit: Atomic Structure of Chlorine