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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

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Chlorine

What is Chlorine?

Chlorine is a naturally-occurring element with a strong, irritating odor that can be either a gas or liquid. Chlorine gas can be released if household bleach mixes with ammonia or other cleaning products. Household bleach does not contain pure chlorine.

Chlorine is used to kill bacteria in drinking water and swimming pool water, and make pesticides, solvents, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.

See also: Chemical Spills and Accidents Factories

Where is Chlorine found?

  • Consumer products - some household cleaners, germicides, and drinking water and swimming pool disinfectants
  • Air - released as a gas if household bleach mixes with ammonia

How can I be exposed to Chlorine?

Chlorine commonly enter(s) the body through:

Inhalation

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing fumes from some cleaning products, disinfectants, and swimming pool water
Touching

Skin contact

  • Touching products made or treated with chlorine

What happens when I am exposed to Chlorine?

Short-term:
Exposure to low chlorine levels can cause:

  • Nose, eye, and throat irritation

Exposure to high chlorine levels in the air can cause:

  • Nose, eye, and throat irritation
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lung damage and fluid in the lungs   

Breathing in high amounts of chlorine may be life-threatening.

Skin contact with chlorine can cause:

  • Irritation
  • Frostbite-like injuries and blisters

Long-term:

Long-term exposure to chlorine can cause:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Memory loss
  • Slow reaction time
  • Impaired balance
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

Who is at risk for exposure to Chlorine?

  • Consumers
    • Some household cleaners, germicides, and disinfectants contain chlorine.
    • Swimming pools are treated with chlorine.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to chlorine, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you mix cleaning products?
  • Do you have a swimming pool?
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products.
  • Carefully handle chemicals with chlorine that are used to clean swimming pools.
  • Store household chemicals in their original labeled containers.
  • Store household chemicals out of the reach of children.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Facts about Chlorine
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Facts about chlorine, its sources and uses, short- and long-term health effects from exposure, and how to protect yourself from it.
  • Chlorine. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about chlorine exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
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