Chlorine is a chemical with a molecular structure of Cl2. Water treatment plants use it to kill bacteria and other harmful substances.
You will notice chlorine in locations like your local swimming pool. A pool has high levels of chlorine, and this chemical produces that distinct smell-and possibly irritates your skin if you stay in the water for too long. Chlorine also exists in regular drinking water, though in far smaller doses than a swimming pool.
While you may know what chlorine does, you might not know the science behind it or its history. This article exists to explain everything you need to know about chlorine.
The Science of Chlorine
Chlorine comes from salt. A chemist takes the molecular structure of salt (NaCl) and splits it into two completely different chemicals. One of those chemicals is Cl2: chlorine.
When chlorine interacts with water (H2O), it undergoes another transformation. The combination creates two new chemicals called hypochlorous acid (HOCI), and hydrochloric acid (HCI). You smell HOCI in a swimming pool.
Due to the acidic nature of hypochlorite, the chemical eats away at bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other harmful substances to break them down. Thus, chlorine produces clean water, which makes it perfect for use in a water treatment plant. After technicians use this chemical to purify water at the plant, they then extract most of the chlorine. What remains won’t harm you. In fact, it might boost your health instead.
The History of Chlorine
The first proposed use of chlorine occurred in a paper published in 1894. Several cities performed experiments with the chemical, but the first town to adopt the proposal was Maidstone, England in 1897.
In 1905, chlorine became mandatory following a breakout of typhoid fever in England. Chlorine almost singlehandedly resolved the epidemic. The United States adopted the use of chlorine three years later. By 1917, over half of the world’s water supply used chlorine as a disinfectant.
Today, we use chlorine in everything. Chlorine represents the largest disinfectant used in water treatment plants today, and it accounts for nearly 98% of all water we drink. Chlorine acts as the most effective form of disinfectant, and it also costs less than other purification methods or materials.
The Benefits of Chlorine
Typhoid fever has all but disappeared since we adopted chlorine in the early 20th century. Today, we use chlorine for much more than water purification. Chlorine acts fast and causes extreme reactions in some products and creates new substances in others.
Some of the products that use chlorine include PVC plastic, glue, solvents, foam rubbers, paints, pesticides, food additives, and antifreeze. Chlorine also helps bond plastics together. On top of all these uses, chlorine also acts as a disinfectant that manufacturers use before putting their products on the market.
Bleach represents another common use of chlorine. Bleach is a strong and effective disinfectant, and it also removes stains. The same chemical reaction that kills bacteria removes the stains.
The Side-Effects of Chlorine
Since chlorine goes into your water supply and many major products, you might wonder if it could harm you. The short answer is no. It will not harm you if you ingest it in small doses.
However, chlorine can harm you in high concentrations. If you inhale this material as a gas, it will cause your lungs to fill with fluid. Chlorine can also create harmful byproducts such as trihalomethanes or haloacetic acids, which are known carcinogens.
Luckily, with today’s technology, these byproducts are easily filtered out and are no cause for concern.
Additionally, in the United States, the maximum amount of chlorine allowed is 4 mgs for every liter of water. 4 mg/L cannot cause physical harm.
Despite the small risk that comes from using chlorine, this chemical provides an important service. It purifies your water and keeps you safe from contaminants. But if you feel concerned, ask your plumber to assess how much chlorine you have in your water. He or she can offer you filtration solutions if you don’t want to ingest this chemical.