Should you be afraid of chlorine?
In times when everything considered healthy has the prefix ‘eco’, is labeled ‘natural’, or ‘no preservatives’, we are suspicious of chemicals. Chlorine is also on the list, but it is still used extensively to treat and disinfect water. Do we really need to be careful?
Chlorination is one of the most common ways of treating water, i.e. making water safe to drink. Every stick, however, has two ends. It is no different with chlorine, which on the one hand is effective in destroying dangerously pathogenic bacteria, and on the other – it is not completely harmless to higher organisms, including Homo Sapiens.
Chlorine is a chemical element in the form of a gas that is more than twice as heavy as air, and is a powerful oxidant, disinfectant, and bleaching agent. The smell of chlorine is unpleasant, suffocating, and, importantly, very poisonous. Chlorine is irritating to the respiratory system and mucous membranes, and may lead to pulmonary edema and death. It is assumed that the limit of dangerous concentration of chlorine in the air is 1000 ppm (abbreviation for ‘part per million’ – particle per million). For this reason, chlorine was used during World War I as a combat gas and chemical weapon. It is important to know that constant contact with chlorine, even in low concentrations, weakens the lungs and increases the risk of other lung diseases. On the other hand, chlorine is present in nature, and, as a macronutrient, is found in most living organisms, including people.
So why is chlorine used on such a large scale in the treatment of tap water or water in swimming pools? Chlorine disinfection is effective. Chlorine kills bacteria (e.g. strains of E. coli bacteria) as well as viruses, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Water contamination with dangerous pathogenic bacteria can be extremely dangerous and threaten not only health, but also human life. Most often, bacteria of these types lead to food poisoning, but it is possible for E. coli bacteria to cause serious infections in some people, including: cystitis, nephritis, meningitis, and sepsis. In such a context, the choice of the lesser evil is obvious – chlorine in permissible concentrations does not pose such a great threat to health, or potentially even life, as pathogenic bacteria. Moreover, chlorinated water is microbiologically pure and retains natural minerals, which is important from the consumer’s point of view. However, we deal with chlorinated water not only in the tap, but very often – in pools where the concentration of this element is much higher than in tap water. So, how does bathing and swimming in chlorinated water affect the human body?