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Chlorine – The Great, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
Chlorine History: Leviticus 2:13 1446 BC, Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50
Possibly the earliest recorded use and form of chlorine is found is the scriptures cited above. Since the beginning when humans first walked the earth, chlorine has been an essential element for survival. Without sodium chloride (salt), there would be no life. Chlorine and chlorine-related compounds, used as disinfectants and pharmaceuticals have saved more lives than any other chemical in the history of the human race. The largest source of sodium chloride is obviously the ocean. There is a limitless supply.
Every generation seems to multiply the uses of chlorine. There could not be life as we know it without chlorine. Chlorine has become so essential to modern life that it is “the single material on which production of other chemicals most depend”. One might well say the chlorine is universal in its uses.
The earths crust is composed of 0.045% chlorine compounds and the earths seas are 2.9%. Chlorine always has been one of the most common elements in nature, more plentiful than carbon. In our blood, skin and teeth, chlorine compounds occur naturally.
In a small experimental laboratory in 1774, the Swedish pharmacist Karl Wilhem Scheele place a few drops of hydrochloric acid onto a piece of manganese dioxide. Immediately, a green yellowish gas arose. He did not realize that he had just discovered chlorine. The word chlorine was first classified as an element by Humphrey Davy in 1810. He named it after the Greek word chloros, which means pale green.
Chlorine was first used in 1846 as a germicide to prevent the spread of “child bed fever” in maternity wards of Vienna General Hospital in Austria. It has become the world’s most potent weapon against infectious diseases.
In 1850, John Snow used chlorine for water disinfection at the Broad Street Pump water supply in London after an outbreak of cholera. In 1897, Sims Woodhead used a bleach solution to sterilize potable water distribution mains in England following a typhoid outbreak.
Maurice Duyk the Belgian chemist developed chlorine gas in 1893 and this made possible disinfection of drinking water. That same year chlorine was first applied as a disinfectant of a plant scale basis in Hamburg, Germany. The first full scale chlorine installation disinfection plant was in 1908 in Chicago at the Bubbly Creek Filter Plant. In 1914 the Department of the Treasury enacted for drinking water.
Since 1908, America has used chlorination as its principle disinfectant for waterborne infectious diseases. Chlorine and filtration of drinking water are credited as being responsible for the 50% increase in life expectancy over the last 97 years. Filtration and chlorine has also been credited as being the most significant public health developments by many magazines and periodicals since their inception.
After successes in England, the use of chlorine began to spread rapidly and in 1908 was used in Jersey City, New Jersey. Water born diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis were literally eliminated as the use of chlorine spread rapidly. Today, 98% of community water treatment systems use chlorine and are benefiting over 220,000,000 people in North America.
Chlorine was the first deadly gas used in warfare. It was used in World War I as a weapon on April 22, 1915 at Ypres by the Germans. When the wind was blowing in just the right direction toward the American front lines, they released the chlorine gas which rapidly killed about five thousand Americans. It was more effective than the German forces estimated it would be but they were not strong enough to defend the area gained by the chlorine gas. Some compounds of chlorine like phosgene, chloropicrin and mustard gas are even more deadly.
Very few innovations or discoveries have been made in the use of chlorine after the first 70 years. Chlorine is still the most widely used method of disinfection used in the United States, but other areas of the world are beginning to use other methods of disinfection with increased frequency.
Many Valuable Uses: Since 1846 when chlorine was first used as a germicide, it has become much more than most people realize. Due to its ability to combine and react with other elements and compounds, chlorine is now a key building block of modern life. Almost every product made today benefits from chlorine chemistry. Chlorine makes water safe to drink, produces life-saving drugs and medical equipment, shields police and fire fighters, protects crops, comes to the rescue in disasters, and cleans and disinfects everything in or around the home. Hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, schools, businesses and manufacturers all depend on chlorine.
The miracles of modern medicine are made possible by chlorine. About 85% of all medicines contain or are manufactured using chlorine. These medicines are then place in vinyl bags or bottles made with chlorine based products.
Chlorine saves lives! Aside from disinfectants and medicines, chlorine is a principle component of protective equipment such as bullet resistant vest, bullet resistant glass (actually special plastic made using chlorine chemistry), helmets, flame-resistant clothing, seat belts and air bags. Many thousands of lives have been saved using these products.
Every year, approximately 12 million tons of chlorine is produced in North America alone. The chlorine industry employs nearly 2 million Americans with an annual payroll of about $52 billion. Over 200 industries are direct users of chlorine and they represent about 40% of all employment that produce 36% of the U. S. national income. More than 3,500 naturally occurring chlorinated organic compounds have been identified. Need I say more?
What about chlorine and poultry? Imagine your poultry farm without chlorine. There would be no PVC plumbing, the medications, much of the housing, the clothes you wear, the water that both your family and the birds drink, the equipment, the vehicles, and just about everything else would be different. You would have more cost, less profit and more work. Consider the hatchery, the company’s office, your home, etc. It is mind boggling to imagine how different life would be without chlorine. This article in 5000 pages could not render even a partial understanding of all the great, the good, the bad and the ugly of chlorine.
In recent years, there have been numerous concerns about chlorine. Although chlorine disinfects drinking water, it also reacts with traces of other material of particles, such as dissolved solids, in the water and forms trace amounts of substances known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The most common of these are known as trihalomethanes (THMs). The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified THMs as a probable carcinogen.
Alternatives to the use of chlorine such as chloramines, chlorine dioxide, ozone and ultraviolet (UV) irradiation have received attention since concerns over DBPs have emerged. Even though these other processes provide efficient disinfection capabilities, each has its own disadvantages. Ozone and UV light do not provide residual disinfection or lasting protection. Most disinfection alternatives produce some type of byproducts.
Chlorine is said by some to be the original persistent organic pollutant (POP). POPs persist in the environment for decades and research by Columbia University suggests they may remain for centuries.
Realizing the importance to begin the chlorine sunset, the Clinton Administration announced a Water Plan that could eventually eliminate the chemical’s use in thousands of products and applications. The announcement was made February 1, 1994, by Carol Browner, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was immediately embraced by environmental groups favoring a broad ban on chlorine. The representatives of the chemical manufacturing industry attacked the Water Plan with great vigor.
The banned substances (e.g., Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs) and many others like them all have one legal cousin, chlorine. Dr. Joe Thornton a biologist at Oregon University states in his book “Pandora’s Poison” that all of the organochlorines contaminate the environment, wildlife, our food and our bodies. They have just one antidote: “ban them all”. An organochlorine is a class of chemicals formed when chlorine gas produced by the chemical industry comes into contact with organic matter in industrial processes and in agricultural uses.
There are 11,000 organochlorines that are known to exist. They are both persistent and stable in the environment, and they accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and humans. They have been in existent since 1940 and now blanket the entire planet. Everyone on Earth now eats, drinks, and breathes a constantly changing and poorly characterized soup of organochlorines, said Dr. Joe Thornton.
Organochlorines have been linked to immune system suppression, falling sperm counts and infertility, as well as learning disability in children.
Notable Quotes and Facts
- A study by the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality showed that the cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.
- Dr. Lance Wallace of the Environmental Protection Agency states “Taking long hot showers is a health risk exposing us to a greater extent to the toxic chemicals contained in water.”
- Dr. Niels Skakkebaek of the University of Copenhagen made a study that demonstrated the average human sperm counts have dropped in Denmark by almost 50% due to the presence of man-made chlorine found in human tissues and breast milk.
- Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, found that high levels of trihalomethanes, a by-product of chlorine in drinking water, significantly increased the risk of stillbirth.
- Dr. Roy E. Albert, chairman of the EPS Carcinogen Assessment Group stated the record of EPA regulation is abysmal. Research is expensive and the funding we are now getting is inadequate. The sobering truth is “We are guinea pigs.”
- Dr. Patrick Flanagan, named at age 17 as one of the Top 10 Scientists in America by Life Magazine, recently advised in the book ELIXIR OF THE AGELESS: that Drinking tap water is a slow form of suicide, today’s tap water is yesterday’s toilet water, too thin to plow and too thick to drink.
- McDonalds, the hamburger giant, is phasing out their chlorine-bleached French-fry bags because dioxin is leaking into the fries. Dioxin is a highly toxic, chlorine based carcinogen, Proctor and Gamble, manufacturers of Tide and other products, now have laundry detergents on store shelves with a “bleach alternative” in it. Bleach is the same as liquid chlorine – only half as strong.
- Dr. J. M. Price states that the cause of arteriosclerosis and resulting heart attacks and strokes is none other than ubiquitous chlorine in our drinking water.
- A Professor of Water Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh claims that exposure to vaporized chemicals in the water supplies through showering, bathing, and inhalation is 100 times greater than through drinking water.
- The National Academy of Sciences estimate that over 1000 people die in the United States each year from cancer caused by ingesting the contaminates in water. Tens of thousands are made acutely ill.
- Dr. Thornton warns, that the levels of dioxin in the environment can only increase, as long as organochlorines are produced. “Once we’ve got them, we’ve got them, and there’s no safe way of disposing of them.” “Once they’re in you, there’s no way to get them out.”
Dr. Riddle suggests that since chlorine is required by health regulations to be present in all public drinking water supplies, it is up to the individual to remove the chlorine by “point of entry systems” at the home and “point of use systems” elsewhere when possible. Many farms are using chlorine to disinfect or oxidize their private wells. It is advisable that they must filter out the residual of this chlorine. It is not expensive to filter and with understanding of the many cautions mention in this article, all research states that all chlorine must be removed prior to consumption.
Our firm has just finished preparation for a grant to the United States Department of Agriculture to develop alternatives to chlorine and also methods of disinfection that will rotate best with chlorine or other disinfectants. There are living micro organisms that will develop immunity to chlorine (as with most disinfectants), rendering it less or completely ineffective as a disinfectant.
Chlorine the Great and the Good article that preceded this one should make us all very thankful for the advent of chlorine in 1904 in public water treatment. Surely many of us would not be here if chlorine had not been used to eradicate the plagues and diseases that were prevalent prior to 1904. Your parents or grandparents might have been among those who fell victim to those water borne diseases. It was chlorine that increased life expectancy from 45 years to 77 years. What we know now about chlorine has improved our health, finances and all of the many conveniences that we enjoy. Chlorine has been both great and good for us all.
It is also completely true that what we don’t know about chlorine may harm us in numerous ways. This article has only mentioned a fraction of one percent of those possibilities.
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