Chlorine in Drinking Water.Chlorine has been used as an effective disinfectant in drinking water supplies for nearly 100 years. Chlorine is considered necessary to destroy many of the bacteria in your drinking water , but what are the health effects of chlorine exposure?
Health effects of chlorine exposure
The health effects resulting from most chlorine exposures begin within seconds to minutes. The severity of the signs and symptoms caused by chlorine will vary according to amount, route and duration of exposure.
Health officials are concerned with the chlorinating by-products, also known as “chlorinated hydrocarbons” or trihalomethanes (THM’s). The President’s Council on Environmental Quality states that “there is increased evidence for an association between rectal, colon and bladder cancer and the consumption of chlorinated drinking water.” Suspected carcinogens make the human body more vulnerable through repeated ingestion and research indicates the incidence of cancer is 44% higher among those using chlorinated water
The chlorine emitted from showering and other household water use breaks down into free radicals that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease. Chlorinated water also contains hypochlorite, which increases levels of singlet oxygen in the body.
Way of contamination
Inhalation: Most chlorine exposures occur via inhalation. Low level exposures to chlorine in air will cause eye/skin/airway irritation, sore throat and cough. Chlorine’s odor provides adequate early warning of its presence, but also causes olfactory fatigue or adaptation, reducing awareness of one’s prolonged exposure at low concentrations. At higher levels of exposure, signs and symptoms may progress to chest tightness, wheezing, dyspnea, and bronchospasm. Severe exposures may result in noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, which may be delayed for several hours.
Ingestion: Since chlorine is a gas at room temperature, it is unlikely that a severe exposure will result from ingestion. However, ingestion of chlorine dissolved in water (e.g., sodium hypochlorite or household bleach) will cause corrosive tissue damage of the gastrointestinal tract.
Eye/Dermal Contact: Low level exposures to chlorine gas will cause eye and skin irritation. Higher exposures may result in severe chemical burns or ulcerations. Exposure to compressed liquid chlorine may cause frostbite of the skin and eyes.
Children may receive a larger dose than adults exposed to environments with the same levels of chlorine gas because they have greater lung surface area-to-body weight ratios and increased minute volumes-to-weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because of their shorter height and the higher levels of chlorine gas that may be found nearer the ground.
There is no antidote for chlorine poisoning. If contact with liquid chlorine occurs, immediate decontamination of skin and eyes with copious amounts of water is important. This should be done cautiously for patients whose exposure has resulted in frostbite. Chemical burns which result from chlorine exposure should be treated as thermal burns.
Expert voices from now and earlier:
“Chlorine is the greatest crippler and killer of modern times. While it prevented epidemics of one disease, it was creating another. Two decades ago, after the start of chlorinating our drinking water in 1904, the epidemic of heart trouble, cancer and senility began.”
J.M. Price, MD
“Showering is suspected as the primary cause of elevated levels of chloroform in nearly every home because of the chlorine in the water.”
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Dr. Lance Wallace
“Taking long hot showers is a health risk, according to research presented last week in Anaheim, California, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Showers – and to a lesser extent baths – lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contain din water supplies than does drinking the water. The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others. House holders can receive 6 to 100 times more of the chemical by breathing the air around showers and bath than they would by drinking the water.”
NEW SCIENTIST, 18 September 1996
“Studies indicate the suspect chemicals can also be inhaled and absorbed through the skin during showering and bathing.”
“Ironically, even the Chlorine widely used to disinfect water produces Carcinogenic traces.”
“Though 7 out of 10 American drink chlorinated water, its safety over the long term is uncertain.”
“Drinking chlorinated water may as much as double the risk of the bladder cancer, which strikes 40,000 people a year.”
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT – July 29, 1991
Is Your Water Safe – The Dangerous State of Your Water
“A long, hot shower can be dangerous. The toxic chemicals are inhaled in high concentrations.”
BOTTOM LINE – August 1987
Dr. John Andelman, Ph.D.