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Darian Ng
Mr. Betancourt
3 April 2009

The Wonders of Chlorine

Have you ever wondered why your swimming pool smelled so bad? Or why it seems like 

your liquid bleach seems like the same smell as the swimming pool? The answer is chlorine. 

Chlorine is responsible for the creation of bleach and chloride that cleans the clothes and water 

we use. We are always exposed to chlorine because it’s around us everyday. Chlorine can be 

found throughout the ocean and salt mines. Every piece of paper you use in school or at work, 

you are exposed to chlorine because at recycle plants, chlorine is used to clean paper for reuse. 

Not only are we exposed to chlorine everyday, but humans also have a great need to mass 

produce this chemical in order for many of our basic needs to be met. For example, liquid bleach 

is used in order to have clean clothes and for drinkable fountain water. However, too much 

chlorine is not always a good thing. Mass production means mass transportation, which can lead 

to disastrous events if this poisonous greenish­yellow gas was to be released in places like North 

Carolina, leading many to wonder if chlorine is worth it. Over exposure to chlorine, such as being 

around the household and drinking water, can be hazardous to Americans and cause dangerous 


Historical Context

Chlorine has been around for over two hundred years and is one of the most widely used 
elements in the world, ranging from poisonous gases to chlorine bleaches. From the battlefields 

of Europe to California factories, chlorine has made a mark on the landscape with its powerful 

odor and extremely dangerous toxicity. Throughout history, the usage of chlorine has

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changed dramatically for good or for the worse. 

Chlorine is a poisonous, yellowish­green gas first discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 

1774 during his investigation of the mineral pyrolusite. He heated pyrolusite with hydrogen 

chloride, resulting this greenish yellow gas. However, Carl Wilhelm thought this was a compound 

of oxygen and first named it dephlogisticated muriatic acid. Meanwhile, another

man believed this dephlogisticated muriatic acid was made of an oxygen and

an unknown element yet to be discovered, muriaticum. (Stwertka , 69) Despite

his best efforts, he was unsuccessful in decomposing the compound because

he thought he could breakdown the element chlorine. In 1810, the English

chemist Sir Humphry Davy also tried to do this separation, but to no one’s

surprise, he also failed. As a result of the many failed experiments, he

concluded that this greenish-yellow gas is in fact a new element and became

what we now know as the 17th element of the periodic table Chlorine. Sir

Humphry Davy named this element chlorine based on its yellow-greenish

color of the gas where he derived it from the Greek word chloros meaning

yellow green or light green. (Heiserman, 70)

This greenish-yellow gas can be found in many natural places like

seawater and in deposits of salt mines. However, that is not most known to

the general people. Chlorine is mostly found in household cleaning products

of bleach. The bleaching action of chlorine is its best-known property.

(Heiserman , 70) Early research of using chlorine to clean clothes failed

because the first solution was called hydrochloric acid, which unfortunately

dissolved cotton and linen destroying many pieces of clothing made of such

material. After many years of research, the familiar liquid bleach was

created and used in all households today was developed. This bleach

contains a weak solution of sodium hypoclorite cleans your clothes.


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Chlorine is used for disinfecting swimming pools and drinking water

from public fountains and taps. The toxic properties of chlorine makes it an

excellent choice for disinfecting water for human usage. However, with such

a dangerous material, there will always be negative outcomes. In World War

I, where chlorine was used as a poison gas in the form of the tear gas

grenade, created by the French in August of 1914. It was later researched

and developed for widespread use by the Germans. These types of gases

were first used widespread against the French on August 22, 1915. Greenish-

yellow clouds approached the Western Front and nearly decimated the entire

regiment stationed for battle by destroying their internal respiratory organs

causing breathing problems and choking attacks. (Duffy)

Although the use of chlorine in gas grenades have nearly disappeared,

people are still exposed to chlorine throughout the world. One such exposure

is in paper recycling plants where they use chlorine to rid paper of the ink

that’s already written on top. Inhaling enough of the chlorine fumes can

cause breathing problems for workers and great exposure can cause

permanent damage for workers leaving a scar in their respiratory system.

Chlorine Characteristics

Chlorine has been used throughout history and is continually used

today making chlorine one of the top 10 most produced chemicals by the

United States. (LockPort­NY ) From the time of chlorine’s discovery to when it

is massively produced, humans have learned how to fully take advantage of

the element chlorine in multiple ways, both helpful and damaging.

Chlorine is part of the group of elements called halogens. Halogens

are a group of nonmetal elements that are highly reactive and can be

harmful or lethal to many biological organisms if appears in sufficient

quantities. This high reactivity is due to the atoms being one electron short

of a full outer shell of eight electrons. Chlorine is a pale green gas that’s

about 2.5 times as dense as air with a suffocating odor that is chocking and

poisonous. (Facts About Chlorine.) Chlorine’s structure pictured below is of a

circular bubble because chlorine is

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formed by covalent bonds of chlorine coming together. The boiling and

melting points are 239.11 kelvin and 171.6 kelvin respectively. (Lenntech)

^structure of chlorine (Facts About Chlorine.)

Chlorine has always been known for the dangers that can be caused

from its toxicity, but how exactly does chlorine affect humans and other

animals alike? The answer lies deep within your own respiratory and cells.

Chlorine concentration can be detected as low as one part per million

molecules or atoms due to its irritation on exposure to humans causing

severe burning in the eyes, nose, skin, and lungs. At 30 parts per million,

major pain is experienced with coughing and vomiting. At 60 parts per

million, lung damage starts to be felt. As the parts per million increases, the

chance of death increases. At 430 parts per million, death can be ensured in

as little as 30 minutes. While at 1,000 parts per million (0.1%), death occurs

within a few minutes after a few deep breaths of the gas. (LockPort­NY) This is

the result of chlorine’s oxidizing powers, which can be good, but deadly to
humans. With enough concentration of chlorine, approximately 60 parts per

million, chlorine gas will combine with water in the air or body to form

Hydrochloric acid and liberate nascent oxygen, which would attack your

tissues in your body, like your lungs. (LockPort­NY)

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Community Effects

One devastating accident occurred in South Carolina involving a

chlorine accident when a 42 car freight train slammed into a parked train on

a side track in the small town of Graniteville, South Carolina. Fourteen cars

on the moving derailed, including three chlorine tank cars, one of which

leaked a deadly cloud of greenish-yellow gas into the air. “Six textile mill

workers, along with the train engineer; a truck driver and a man who was

found in his Main Street home, died of chlorine inhalation.” (Akin) Despite the

nine deaths, there were at least 234 people went to area hospitals, most with

respiratory illness from inhaling chlorine gas. Of all the people who went to

the hospital, 38 were hospitalized for more than a day and five were in

critical condition. Authorities ordered all 5,400 people within a mile of the

railroad crash to evacuate because of the dangers of Chlorine gas that

resulted from the train crash. An estimated 60-70 tons of choking, toxic

plumes escaped from the leaking car. All these accidents resulted from just

one element combining with the water vapors in the air that causes the

disastrous effects. (Akin)

Chlorine gas is floating in
the air after being mixed
with water. Inhaling a few
breaths of this can have
devastating effects on
your lungs. (Akin)

However, not all

communities are affected

as greatly with chlorine

exposure. Factory

workers in the VanDeMark Chemical complex that handle chlorine on a daily

basis, but they do not have as much of an after effect of inhaling chlorine

gas. Because there are health hazard restrictions,

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such as a limit of chlorine handled at a time and gas masks while producing

the poison gas, phosgene out of chlorine. Despite the safety measures, these

workers still face respiratory to the lungs and have irritated skin.

Although great exposure to Chlorine will cause skin and respiratory

damage, chlorine is still used in all water systems in America. Many may

think that this will cause breathing problems, but in fact, the amount of

chlorine used in water is far too small parts per million to cause any great

damage. According to the San Francisco water system, the maximum

allowed amount of chlorine is one part per ten million. (San Francisco Public 

Utilities Commission) However, the water in San Francisco is used at one part

per thirty million. With such facts and numbers, one can conclude that
despite being constantly exposed to chlorine, there will not be any harmful

effects on the body.

Chlorine’s usefulness outweighs the dangers of this greenish yellow

gas. Chlorine has been around for hundreds of years providing great

mysteries in the science world like using chlorine as the base material for

tear gas. Scientists have explored many ways to exploit its usefulness for the

greater good like creating cleaning supplies. Although chlorine can attack

your body dangerously like those who fell victim to the chlorine leak in North

Carolina, it can only be achieved with concentrations of 500 parts per million

or more, but water in the United States use chlorine in one part per ten

million. The oxidizing powers that clean swimming pools and water are

around Americans everyday whether it’s on a piece of paper or in the dry

cleaners. This same oxidizing power, however, can destroy the lungs of many

human beings because chlorine burns the tissue cells of humans causing

respiratory problems. Exposure to too much chlorine will have dangerous

effects to Americans, which happens everyday, but Americans should not

worry about being poisoned by chlorine. As long as regulations of the amount

of chlorine used to clean water are followed, there should be no worries of

chlorine outbreaks, but how safe are these regulations?

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Works Cited

1. Duffy, Michael. “Weapons of War Poison Gas” First World War. Ed. Duffy,

Michael. 5 May 2002. 14 March 2009


2. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. 19 March 2009. 19 March 2009. 


3. LockPort­NY. 1998. 6 March 2009 < http://www.lockport­> 

4. “Facts About Chlorine.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 25 March 2005. 13 Feb. 

2009 <>

5. Lenntech. 2008. 13 Feb. 2009 <­chart­elements/cl­en.htm>

6.  Akin. "Chlorine Gas From South Carolina Train Crash Kills Nine." Ens­ 10 

Jan. 2005. 1 March. 2009 http://www.ens­­01­10­04.asp

7. Heiserman, David L. Exploring Chemical Elements and their Compounds. Blue Ridge Summit 

:TAB Books, 1992

8. Stwertka, Albert. A Guide to the Elements. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2002.