Chlorine is a gas, a very common element, found in many chemicals used in our everyday life. It is an ingredient in many cleaning products because chlorine inhibits the growth of bacteria in the water. For this property, this chemical is used to sterilize drinking water as well as swimming pools. It’s also used for sanitizing industrial waste and sewage. It is also half of the composition of sodium chloride, more commonly known as table salt. This is what flavors our food to make it more delectable. It seems like chlorine is indispensable in our daily lives.
By itself, chlorine is lethal and can cause severe damage to body tissue when touched, swallowed or inhaled. In its gaseous state, it acts as a pulmonary irritant which can cause acute damage to the upper and lower respiratory tract. Susceptible to this kind of damage are those people who work with chemicals containing chlorine and their exposure periods can result in serious toxicity. Either prolonged exposure to low concentrations or short-term exposure in high concentrations will cause destructive effects.
Another property of chlorine which makes it dangerous is its water solubility. It easily dissolves or reacts with water to form hydrochloric or hydrochloric acids. Both these substances are extremely poisonous to humans. Chlorine inhaled will cause the formation of acids in the respiratory tract as the gas will react with any water present in the system. This will cause serious damage to the respiratory tract tissues. The same thing can happen in the digestive tract if the chlorine is swallowed.
How Does One Get Exposed to Chlorine?
Chlorine is an indispensable chemical used in many products. This makes it one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals all over the world. Consider these products and services which involve the use of the chemical. It can be used as a bleach for making paper and cloth. It’s used in pesticides for pest control and in making rubber and solvents. People use it as a disinfectant against bacteria growth in swimming pools and drinking water. And it can also be used as a sanitizing agent in the treatment of industrial waste and sewage. On its downside, the gas was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, causing people and soldiers who are exposed to the gas to choke.
How vulnerable can a person be when exposed to chlorine gas? This will depend upon that person’s proximity where the gas was released. Chlorine gas released into the air can expose one through theskin or eye contact or inhalation. The closer they are to the source, the more severe the effect will be. It is noteworthy to know that chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it is most likely to settle in low-lying areas.
Where chlorine liquid is released in water, exposure would be by skin contact. It can also happen by drinking chlorine-contaminated water or by eating contaminated food. Here are the symptoms one would experience when exposed to chlorine.
A headache and nausea. People who are exposed to more than the allowable dosage of chlorine will experience negative effects. The severity of these effects would depend on the level of toxicity they have been exposed to. Usual effects will include sneezing, skin, eye, nasal and throat irritations. The exposure may also induce nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Acute gas poisoning symptoms usually involve the respiratory system. These symptoms may include difficulty in breathing and coughing and abnormal crackling sounds in the lungs.
When there is more chlorine than usual in swimming pool water, bathers can be exposed to ingesting the water. Exposure can also happen by inhaling the gas vapors or encountering the chlorine through their skin and eyes. In any case, when exposed to contaminated water, nausea, vomiting, and headaches may be experienced.
Watery eyes and blurred vision. Water which has a lot of chlorine in it would send the body signals that there is something not right. A person would feel a stinging sensation in your body and irritation in the eyes. There is a natural protection film in the eyes that are made up of water, protein, mucus, and oils. This film keeps bacteria from infecting the eye as well as serving as a lubricant to keep the eye moist. Since chlorine has shown adverse effects on proteins, its exposure to this eye’s film will cause it to be stripped away. This causes eye dryness, irritations, and possible infections. Watery eyes, blurry visions, and swelling of the cornea will follow once the protective film has been breached. All these will happen because of chlorine getting into one’s eyes.
Fortunately for our body’s natural mechanisms, this effect is only temporary. A few moments after a person gets out of the chlorinated water; the eye will naturally create more precorneal or protective film. This will once again allow the eye to retain moisture and a shield against bacteria. Long-term effects of chlorine exposure are still being researched. And up to now, there are no determined conclusions, yet. Meantime, just be cautious about being overexposed to chlorine. Remember, it’s already in the drinking water, in public swimming pools, and in cleaning agents.
Respiratory problems. When the body is exposed to chlorine gas poisoning, the respiratory system is usually the first to be affected. Once exposed, a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes will be experienced. Wheezing, coughing and chest tightness may follow.
For high concentration exposures, difficulty in breathing and shortness of breaths will occur. For low-concentrated inhalations, there may be a delay in these symptoms to occur.
Severe cases of chlorine gas inhalation may lead to pulmonary edema, where there is an accumulation of fluids in the lungs. Low inhalations may also cause edema but on a delayed time interval.
There are other diseases that maybe linked to prolonged chlorine exposure. Asthma has been associated with such exposure. The same with epiglottitis. This is a potentially life-threatening inflammatory condition of the cartilage that covers the windpipe. People unconsciously inhale chlorine fumes as it is being used in common household products. People may even associate its smell like a “clean” odor. Maybe it’s time to have second thoughts about that aroma. Because it could eventually lead to respiratory diseases or worsen current respiratory problems.
Problems with the digestive system. Earlier, it’s been discussed that chlorine is used as a disinfectant to eliminate bacteria. Chlorinated water can do the job, but it must be noted that not all bacteria found in the digestive tracts are harmful. The presence of lactobacilli, for example, is important in the digestive process. Chlorine cannot discern “good” from “bad” bacteria and will kill both. Studies have further shown that there is an association between temperature and good bacteria being present in the digestive tract. Weak gut health due to the absence of the bacteria can cause diseases like asthma, bowel disease, allergies, and even obesity. It is recommended to avoid drinking chlorinated water to maintain good digestive health. There also are now “good” bacteria cultures known as probiotics. These can be taken orally to supplement those already present in your system. Maintaining their presence can help ward off “bad” parasites and bacteria. It can also prevent allergies and the overgrowth of yeast.
A much worse effect of chlorine is its hormone scrambling ability. When chlorine finds its way inside the body, whether through inhalation, contact or imbibed, the chemical becomes a xenoestrogen, a false hormone. Their presence will play a role in estrogen dominance. This can lead to various sexually related conditions and cancer in both males and females. It can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies like B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc.
The introduction of chlorine to the body has also been related to weight gain or obesity in several ways. First, the chemical can displace iodine in the thyroid gland which will lead to hypothyroidism. Without iodine, the body will start to experience hot flashes as well as weight gain. Second, because of the presence of chlorine as a xenoestrogen, the liver will be very busy eliminating the excess false estrogen. Thus, this minimizes its other important functions such as burning the body’s fat. Logically, not burning fat leads to weight gain. Third, antioxidants, like vitamins A and E, which are essential in protecting good fats. They are also destroyed by the presence of chlorine. And the deficiency of the fatty acids will again, result in gaining weight.
Make it a habit of protecting your liver by adding organic liver support supplements to the daily regimen. Components like chlorophyll and artichokes can assist the liver in cleaning out unwanted chemicals. These include chlorine, heavy metals and other harmful toxins which are stuck in the system.
Effects on the skin. The most exposed organ of the human body is the skin, and it too cannot be spared from the effects of chlorine. Such exposure can result in burns and irritations. In more severe cases may cause necrosis in the skin and the underlying tissues.
Being a very soluble substance, chlorine, when added to water, will cause a chemical reaction to form hydrochloric acid. The skin has small openings called pores. These open when exposed to chlorinated or acidic water. Acids we all know have a corrosive property. When in contact with skin, the acid can remove some of the natural oils in the skin which keeps it moist. This will cause dryness, itchiness, and sensitivity. Swimmers in pools usually fall victims to these skin irritations.
Even when after a dip in the swimming pool, the effects of chlorine will persist. Chloramines can stick to wet skin and swimsuit after swimming. The contact of the suit to the skin can cause irritations that can lead to dermatitis. Dermatitis is a condition of the skin. The skin of people who have this becomes red, swollen, and sore. Sometimes it even comes with small blisters, resulting from direct irritation of the skin by an external agent or an allergic reaction to it. This medical condition can be worse, depending on the degree of chlorine contact on the skin.
One can be exposed to chlorine contamination directly by handling substances containing the element. Pool disinfectants in tablet form, liquid form or powder form have calcium hypochlorite. This is an extremely corrosive and oxidizing compound that can cause severe tissue damage when it meets the skin. Prolonged exposure can lead to painful skin ulcerations or even chemical burns.
Even in its gaseous form, chlorine can render the same damaging effects. Getting in contact with chlorine fumes can cause blisters, hives or rashes. Those exposed to high concentrations of the gas’ toxic vapors will experience skin cell degeneration. This is because the cells cannot cope with the chlorine’s corrosive attack. Too much exposure to the gas may result in skin burns.
Corrosion of teeth. Many are unaware that chlorine as a disinfectant in swimming pools also has its adverse effects on teeth. Its presence raises the pH level of pool water, and this causes teeth discoloration. this condition is known as “swimmer’s calculus.” It is common among frequent pool swimmers.
The presence of chlorine raises the pH level of pool water and has varied effects on teeth. It causes brown stains on teeth, and it prevents saliva from cleaning the teeth. It weakens the tooth’s outer covering, making it prone to damage, decay or sensitivity.
Enamel is important to the tooth because it is its first line of defense against decay. Once corroded, it cannot be repaired naturally. Prolonged exposures to chlorine discolor and weaken the teeth. Frequent swimmers are susceptible to this condition. Poor dental hygiene can lead to other problems like heart disease.
Asthma and cancer. Other health issues that may arise from chlorine exposure include asthma, respiratory diseases, and even cancer. Studies have proven that frequent contact with chlorinated water increases the risk of developing cancer. There are many byproducts used in pools that contain chlorine.
At this point, it is best to suggest that people stop swimming in chlorinated water. What should be done is looking for alternative disinfectants in the treatment of swimming pools aside from chlorine. As an agent in killing bacteria, chlorine has proven its value. But through the years, researchers are becoming concerned about the chemical’s effects on health. But it is always best to stay safe and be informed. More studies, however, need to be conducted to come up with a credible conclusion.
Preventing Chlorine Exposure
People must be aware of the chemical’s danger to our health. As the saying goes, “prevention is better than the cure.” Here are some suggestions on how to avoid chlorine poisoning:
- People using household products that contain chlorine should read the labels carefully. Also, be sure to follow the directions correspondingly.
- Chlorinated products must be kept far away from food and more importantly, away from children’s reach.
- When combining chlorine with another product, always be sure that there is no imminent danger or accident. One lethal combination is mixing chlorine bleach with ammonia.
Chlorine will be an indispensable product in our daily lives because it is an effective disinfectant. Until a better alternative comes along, we need to be very cautious each time we use a chlorine-containing product to avoid any poisoning. Always remember, prevention is always better than the cure.