Chlorine, the Blessed Curse

Chlorine, The Blessed Curse

Of my half dozen or so readers, at least a couple of you should recall that I live in a somewhat remote area. My homestead is situated in a box end canyon. There is a crystal clear stream that runs through it. This stream is my source of water.

The water is said to purify itself every one hundred feet or so due to the limestone bedrock over which the stream flows. Whether this is true or not, I can’t say. However there is one thing I am relatively sure of. My source of water is about as chlorine free as it gets.

Having existed here in the semi-wilderness for these past thirty years, I seem to have developed certain heightened sensitivities. For example I can pull down my pants and sit on a dime and tell you if it’s heads or tails. Actually, I can’t really do that although I once knew a blind man who said he could.

The heightened senses I’m talking about have to do with other things, like smells. For example I can tell if someone lights a fire with petroleum fire starter a mile or more down wind. I can smell and taste the chemicals in the fire starter as if it were a few feet away. And God help me if someone shows up wearing heavy cologne or perfume.

When I visit any medium to large city the automobile exhaust fumes are overwhelming. I endure the onslaught to my senses silently and with head held high, but I can’t imagine living around such an obvious minus to one’s heath and peace of mind. I guess millions of good people have no other real choice. They just do what they gotta do.

My conscience is clear in the exhaust fume department. I don’t own a vehicle of any kind. Actually, I rarely use transportation powered by fossil fuel; perhaps three or four times a year, at most. One such occasion is when my partner and I make our annual visit to her parent’s home at Christmas.

The water supplied by the city in which they reside is heavily chlorinated. We don’t drink it, my partner and I, but we are forced take a hot shower at least once during our visit. Though my in-laws don’t seem to notice the chlorine at all, we can smell it and taste it. The water reeks with eye watering, skin burning, nuclear-like nastiness!

Once upon a time, years ago, we meekly suggested that there were simple ways to remove the chlorine from one’s household water should anyone wish to do so.

My highly decorated, though retired, US Marine father-in-law hit the roof. How dare we question the wisdom of the learned City Council and the voters of their mauling metropolis? Didn’t they collectively decide, way back when, to obey the law and chlorinate their water? The government said to do it so it had to be good, didn’t it? And just how dare we question the knowledge and foresight of all those lofty reservoirs of knowledge who are responsible for making and enacting laws in Washington; laws designed to protect ingrates just such as us?

It has been many long years now since that first episode in what has become one of the longest running sagas in the glorious history of guilt trips. Each and every Christmas, my partner and I meekly sip our bottled water while my father-in-law once again pronounces his tap water nothing less than pure ambrosia from heaven. Smacking his lips in glee, he imbibes another glass and proclaims, “My that is delicious. Best water in the world. Good old American tap water!”.

I’ll admit my father-in-law is at the extreme outer limits of the pathologically insecure. But we love him anyway. However, it is for those of you who have your own such cross to bear that I have compiled this summary of the sins of chlorine. It will be a cold day in hell before I ever show it to my over-bearing-in-law, but you might want to share this information with certain persons you may know and perhaps love who continue to hide from the truth about chlorinated water. There is after all, a certain power to the printed word.

Chlorine is an inorganic substance that chemically bonds with protein. This bonding often results in dry, brittle, dull looking hair and/or flaky, itchy skin. Efforts at relieving such uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing conditions involve the use of a wide range of remedies, such as special shampoos, conditioners, lotions, salves and moisturizing creams. Though these may bring temporary relief, the symptoms are likely to continue so long as chlorinated water is used.

Skin and hair problems, however, are only the tip of the chlorinated ice cube!

Initially, chlorine was considered a wondrous blessing. Prior to it’s use, millions of people suffered severe illness or death directly related to pathogens found in their water supply. These pathogens included dangerous bacteria and malicious microorganisms, most of which are completely vulnerable to chlorine. An article published in the New York Times during this period of ignorant bliss stated that thanks to chlorine, “Any municipal water supply can be made as pure as mountain spring water. Chlorination destroys all animal and microbial life, leaving no trace of itself afterwards.”. Happy days were here again!

In more recent times, however, we learned that chlorine leaves much more that a mere “trace of itself” behind. For example, halogenated organic compounds, byproducts of chlorination such as chloroform, have been identified in chlorinated drinking water samples taken throughout the United States. Numerous epidemiological studies generally support the notion that these by-products of chlorination are associated with an increased risk of bowel, kidney and bladder cancer.

The US General Accounting Office reports that over nine hundred thousand people a year still become ill due to waterborne disease. Nine hundred people a year die. All of this suffering and loss of life is directly related to pollutants that enter the water supply as by-products of chlorination or as chemical run-off generated by industry and other human activities.

Chlorine can trigger a variety of reactions in children, the elderly, and people with chlorine-sensitivity. Though many people are aware of studies that show it is best to avoid drinking chlorinated water, they often overlook the problems associated with dermal absorption. Bathing in chlorine can have the same effect as drinking it. In fact, chlorine levels found in the tap water of some American cities is so high, taking 3 showers a day would put one above the minimum government standard for safe exposure.

In their book, “One Hundred Years Of Water Chlorination”, chemist John Ashton and Dr. Ronald Laura look at another side of bathing in chlorinated water. “Gasses are as a rule less soluble in hot water, and when water is heated or boiled dissolved gasses are released. Boiling water is as we noted earlier a way in which the free chlorine content in water is greatly reduced, the chlorine escaping into the air.”

Who hasn’t noticed at least a faint smell of chlorine while taking a hot shower? What concerned the above researchers is how the concentration of chlorine in the air steadily increases as a result of the confined space within an enclosed shower stall or tub; especially one with poor ventilation. According to Ashton and Laura, “The olfactory threshold for chlorine is about 3.5PPM (parts per million) so when we can smell chlorine the concentration is already above this level. The lethal concentration for ten-minute exposure is about 600 PPM and we suggest that regularly taking hot showers with chlorinated water could pose a health risk.

” Since chlorine has been shown to cause pulmonary edema, the above authors go on to suggest how “it would seem likely that regular exposure to chlorine gas even at low levels such as in normal showering may reduce the oxygen transfer capacity of the lungs. This could be a critical factor for athletes and for others prone to heart failure.”

Healthy glowing skin depends on a delicate ecological balance of natural bacteria and a very thin layer of non-greasy oils, called lipids. Chlorine disrupts this natural balance and reacts with lipids to form chlorinated compounds. These compounds, when absorbed by the body, can promote the aging process of the skin. Some researchers believe chlorine may actually accelerate the aging effects of ultraviolet radiation.

Chlorine is one of the five electronegative elements known to damage enzymes.

Chlorine potentiates magnesium deficiency, which over time can manifest as a variety of symptoms including high blood pressure, chemical sensitivity and in rare cases, sudden death. Chlorine also decreases the absorption rate and increases the excretion of calcium and phosphorus. This increased loss of calcium is thought to promote osteoporosis.

Chlorine not only contributes to hypertension, but also cancers of the pancreas, colon, and bladder. In addition, it has been linked to heart attacks, diabetes and kidney stones. A 1992 study was reported in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health and subsequently made front-page headlines. Robert Morris and researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee found that people who regularly drink tap water containing high levels of chlorine by-products have a greater risk of developing bladder and rectal cancers than people who drink non-chlorinated water. This study estimates that about 9 percent of all bladder cancer and 18 percent of all rectal cancer cases are associated with long-term consumption of these by-products. This amounts to over 20,000 new cases each year.

Using a new technique called “meta-analysis”, Robert Morris, along with epidemiologist Thomas C. Chalmers and his colleagues at Harvard, combined and reanalyzed the results of the top 10 studies done to date. This analysis yielded some significant new findings. People drinking chlorinated water over long periods have a 21% increase in the risk of contracting bladder cancer and a 38% increase in the risk of rectal cancer. “I am quite convinced, based on this study, that there is an association between cancer and chlorinated water.”, said Robert Morris.

Clearly, chlorine is beginning to look more and more like a curse, rather than a blessing. But it gets worse. Chlorine can also be a very bad influence on things we’ve always considered as essential to health and healing. For example, many of nature’s most valuable and essential anti-cancer and anti-disease phytochemical nutrients are commonly found in food. Yet many foods have been discovered to form deadly cancer causing substances when consumed or combined with chlorinated tap water! This discovery includes soy, fruits, vegetables, tea, and many health products; even some vitamins.

Really, we should have seem this coming. After all, a host of toxic byproducts result from chlorine use in water purification systems as well as many other products we use everyday. Chlorine reacts negatively with most natural organic compounds.

This fact has long been known in both the water treatment industry and other chemical industries where compounds that result from chlorine reactions are known as disinfection by-products (DBPs). Most DBPs are known carcinogens. For example, trihalomethanes (THMs) form during water purification when chlorine reacts with natural and synthetic organic chemicals in the water. THMs, the most common DBP, is known to cause a high incidence of bladder cancer and also to cause spontaneous abortion of fetuses. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and the New Jersey Department of Health identified potential associations between high THM levels in drinking water and low birth weights and birth defects.

For many years doctors in Norway, Canada and the United States have been reporting higher levels of birth defects in areas where chlorine is used, compared with drinking water treated by alternative methods. A Norwegian study of 141,000 births over three years found a 14 per cent increased risk of birth defects in areas with chlorinated water, including spina bifida and stillbirths.

The case against chlorine continues to mount at a rapid pace. So much so that it’s use, as both a stand alone chemical and as the building block (raw material) for many other chemical products, has come under increasing scrutiny by government regulators and environmental organizations worldwide.

For example, in the United States, our Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the permissible workplace exposure limit, not to be exceeded at any time, at 1 ppm. The EPA also now regulates chlorine under the authority of at least five environmental statutes:

Under the Clean Air Act, chlorine is classified as a “hazardous air pollutant.”

Under the Clean Water Act, chlorine use in bleaching pulp and paper products must be phased-out because chlorine combines with organic matter in trees to form dioxins, furans, and chlorinated phenolics!

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility, Compensation and Liability Act (popularly known as “Superfund”) chlorine is classed as an “extremely hazardous substance.”

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, requires that all large quantity users of chlorine must submit data on chlorine releases and transfers.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act a “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) is set for THM at 0.10 milligram per liter. The MCL is the maximum permissible level of a contaminant in drinking water from a public water system.

Examples of international chlorine scrutiny abound. Here are a couple:

Chlorine is on Sweden’s “Observation List” of phase-out chemicals because it may “give rise to large risks to human health and/or the environment.”

In 1992, the International Joint Commission (IJC) recommended that Canada and the U.S. take a precautionary approach to chlorine and phase-out its use: “We know that when chlorine is used as a (raw material) in a manufacturing process, one cannot necessarily predict or control which chlorinated organics will result, and in what quantity. Accordingly, the Commission concludes that the use of chlorine and its compounds should be avoided in the manufacturing process. We recognize that socio-economic and other consequences of banning the use of chlorine and subsequent use of alternative chemicals or processes must be considered in determining the timetable.”

Not surprisingly, industry analysts foresee a cloudy future for continued chlorine growth. They blame this “disappointing” situation on: increasing awareness of safety risks and environmental hazards caused by chlorine and its derivatives; actions by environmentalists against the production and use of chlorine; end-users reducing or eliminating the use of chlorine and chlorine-containing chemicals; and the phasing-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and chlorine in pulp bleaching.

This is very much like saying, “Gee, we make a perfectly awful chemical that does perfectly awful things. So awful, in fact, it even causes otherwise good things to do awful things. The mess our product has made is so awful, we can’t even imagine if or when the awfulness will end or how far it will go. Who could have imagined the gig would be up so soon?”

These are amazing times we live in. Phillip Morris has a web site that tells us cigarettes kill. Having seen this fact proven a million times over, the tobacco industry has finally bowed to the inevitable and eaten crow. Paid out a pretty penny in various paltry attempts at restitution, too. I imagine they will continue doing so for a good while.

Here’s another news flash: I suspect and do hereby humbly suggest that the cost in human suffering and death and the cost in damage to the environment and the subsequent cleanup and restoration that might directly be attributed to the chlorine industry is far graver than that caused by the tobacco industry. However, to determine the real magnitude of this issue one must look well beyond the comparably insignificant activity of water purification and pool maintenance.

Stating the potential devastation as a dollars and cents number is perhaps beyond our present capabilities, though were it possible the figure would no doubt reach the mega-trillions over time. What is knowable is a sad fact indeed. To quantify the true damage done by this most cursed of blessings, one would need to know every single chlorinated organic compound coming into being at this very moment as all chlorine currently in use throughout the world continually reacts with the natural organic compounds it is encountering. This data would need to be updated each and every moment, so long as chlorine continues to be released into the environment and utilized in industrial and manufacturing applications!

This data, vast as it may be, is only part of the equation. The real work begins with determining the effects this endless flow of chlorine byproducts and chlorinated organics is having, both now and in the future, on everything from the cells within our bodies to our food, our health supplements, our pharmaceutical drugs and every other organic aspect of our environment and our world!

If chorine can react with foods such as soy to create known carcinogens or combine with organic matter from trees, such as leaves or twigs, to form dioxins, who can imagine the true scope or nature of the devastating potential consequences that future generations may encounter?

The chlorine industry and the various agencies within our government charged with protecting the health of the populace and the environment have know about most, if not all of these issues for years. Their solution appears to be a slow phase out of chlorine via ever tightening user guidelines and regulations. One presumes this route was chosen in the name of avoiding mass hysteria and a crushing financial avalanche of endless lawsuits.

Joseph M. Price, MD, believes that the present epidemic of heart disease, cancer and senility began with “…. chlorinating our drinking water.” In Moseby’s Medical Dictionary Dr. Price says, “Chlorine is the greatest crippler and killer of modern times. It is an insidious poison.”

My father-in-law can believe what he wants. But as for me, the next time he turns on the tap to enjoy another glass of that polluted swill he calls water, I’m gonna run like hell!

Ezra Speaks © 2003