“A peculiar accident reported by the National Safety Council involved two housewives in separate cases. Both were using an ordinary toilet bowl cleaner. Not satisfied with the way it was removing stain, each one added some household bleach and stirred with a brush. One died quickly, the other spent a long time in the hospital.”
Chlorine is a toxic, yellow-green gas that is one of today’s most heavily used chemical agents. Serious risks to our health and the health of the environment are being caused by the widespread use of chlorine. The use of chlorine in household cleaners has recently raised much controversy.
Many household cleaners contain chlorine but the labels indicate the alias names of “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypochlorite.” Whether chlorine is found alone or in a mixture with other chemicals, household products that contain chlorine pose a number of serious health risks. Automatic dishwashing detergents, chlorine bleach, chlorinated disinfectant cleaners, mildew removers and toilet bowl cleaners are some of the products of special concern.
The fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine when breathed in can irritate the lungs and be particularly dangerous for people who suffer from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. When the fumes are emitted in small, poorly ventilated rooms such as the bathroom, the risks are increased. Chlorine is also a highly corrosive material which is capable of damaging skin, eyes and other membranes.
When using detergents that contain chlorine in the dishwasher or clothes washer the air in your home becomes polluted through a process called “volatilization” which takes place when the chlorine in the water transfers the chlorine to the air. We then breathe the contaminated air. Dishwashers are the worst offenders as they release chemicals in a steamy mist when the door is opened after washing. In a clothes washer, chorine mixes with the dirt in clothes to create airborne, toxic chlorinated organic chemicals.
Overall, chlorine is a dangerous chemical to keep in your home. In 1993, 40,000 exposures to chlorine were reported to poison control centers which is more than any other chemical. Fragranced chlorine bleaches are especially dangerous because the odor is disguised and actually makes the experience of inhaling chlorines bleach pleasant.
Mixing household products containing chlorine with other cleaning agents is another danger due to the fact that these mixtures can create chlorine gas and chloramines, toxic gases that can injure the deep tissues of the lungs.
Whenever chlorine is used, organochlorides are formed which are forerunners to dioxins, a deadly class of compounds that cause toxic health effects. A new EPA draft report on the dangers of dioxins warns for the first time that even trace amounts can cause serious health problems including birth defects, genetic mutations, threats to the immune and reproductive systems, damage to the liver, kidneys and skin and even cancer.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
– Read labels on cleaning supplies and look for those which contain chlorine.
– Avoid using cleaners which contain chlorine.
– Find safer, more natural and environmentally responsible products to clean your home.
– Never mix bleach with acids such as vinegar, ammonia, toilet bow cleaners, drain cleaners or chlorinated scouring powder as it produces deadly chloramines gas which may result in the burning of mucous membranes and chemical pneumonia.