Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Bad Idea Named Chlorine

Here is some information on the use of chlorine in bleaching paper. As Paul suggested in his comment on 12/11, it's the manufacture of chlorine that is the real problem, not the disposal of it on the other end.

In 1993, the American Public Health Association passed a unanimous resolution urging American industry to phase out the manufacture of chlorine because of the danger to public health and safety. I wonder if this had any effect. I'm assuming since the public still regularly purchases bleached and chlorinated products, there was no enforcement on behalf of the APHA's resolution. Why? Because the dollar takes a backseat to nothing and no one, and politicians are primarily interested in "growing the economy" and keeping corporations fat and happy. Corporations enjoy the privileges and rights of personhood without the accountability.

I quote below from an informative page on MakingIndiaGreen.Org, and in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that this was reprinted with permission from Seventh Generation, which is a company that sells eco-friendly cleaning products:

"Chlorine is used by the paper industry for two purposes. The first has to do with a substance called lignin. Lignin is the natural material a tree uses to hold its cellulose fibers together. Cellulose fibers are the raw material for paper. Because chlorine dissolves lignin, paper mills use it to rinse the lignin out of the wood pulp they need to make paper.

Once the lignin is washed away, and the pulp is ready to be made into paper, chlorine is used again to make the paper white. If this were all there was to it, we wouldn't have much to worry about. Unfortunately, there's more. When wood pulp or recycled paper is bleached, the reactions that take place between the chlorine, the lignin, and the cellulose fibers produce the most toxic substances ever created. The most dangerous of these includes a family of 75 different chemicals known as dioxins and a host of other chemicals called organochlorines.

The wastes that paper mills discharge into the environment after paper is bleached contain dioxins. And dioxins don't readily break down, which means that over the years they've been accumulating in our air, water, and soil. Once they're out there, they enter the food chain and we're exposed to them through the food we eat. Dioxins are now so widespread in the environment that virtually every man, woman, and child in America has them in their bodies. In fact, each day we ingest 300-600 times more than the EPA's so-called "safe" dose. As they accumulate inside us to critical levels, the effects begin to show.

Dioxins are deadly. In fact, dioxins are believed to be the most carcinogenic chemicals known to science, and the U.S. EPA's Dioxin Reassessment has found dioxins 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT (the use of which was banned in the U.S. in 1972). There's no way to sugar-coat the effects dioxins have on people and the environment. Recent research has conclusively linked dioxins to cancer, reproductive disorders among adults, deformities and developmental problems in children, and immune system breakdowns. And dioxins can cause these effects at exposure levels hundreds of thousands of times lower than most hazardous chemicals.

Like dioxins, organochlorines are extremely long-lived, highly efficient travelers that have spread throughout the global environment. Every human being on the planet now carries organochlorines in his or her body. Scientists are concerned about these chemicals because they believe that when organochlorine molecules enter the body, they mimic hormones, the natural substances we produce in minute quantities to regulate our bodies' many functions. Because organochlorine molecules are shaped like hormone molecules, they can slip into cells in place of our hormones and cause terrible effects. These may include lower IQ, reduced fertility, genital deformities, breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, dramatic reductions in human sperm counts, and abnormalities within the immune system through a process called endocrine disruption."

There is equally frightening information on this page regarding the use of chlorine in household cleaners. In the spirit of all questions we must ask in terms of our relationship to the environment, at what cost should we make our paper or clothing sparkly white, or our tubs or toilets "germ-free"?


At 11:25 AM, Blogger Laurie said...


At 11:34 AM, Blogger Zosja said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...for the past couple of hours or so..I've been reviewing your Blog and it's numerous links to other's and sites of related interests and research data, etc. I've only posted one other comment(ever)to anyone on line. I just want to encourage you along with anyone else of similar mindset and determination to continue...Through awareness and focused action, changes can happen and make a difference. Your blog is well worth your time and mine among others, thank you.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger SustainableGirl said...

Anonymous, thank you. I'm doing my small part and to know that my words make an impact gives me a huge boost. We're all in this together so the more people we reach and the more of us stop and think about our actions and choices, the better shape we're going to be in. I believe this is a crucial time. Thanks again for your vote of confidence - it's appreciated more than I can tell you.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Siel said...

Dude -- Ya really gotta offer a feed. I keep forgetting to check up on what you're up to! And I've been missing out -- on a lot! Hope you don't think I'm uninterested -- love what yr doin here -- (and seriously, offer a feed for my sake ;)

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is chlorine bad for the enviroment?

At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the information. Now everyone I speak to I will pass this info on. Please keep doing what you are doing. Sanjar

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sustainable Girl,

Stumbled upon your piece about chlorine - very authoritative.
Fantastic to know that individuals of your class are rattling around out there doing their bit. It's an informal global network. Probably the best hope we have. I've no idea who you are, but just keep on doing what you do. You are very much not alone. Good luck withall.
Dr SR Forsyth
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England

PS. I work advising business people on how to go green, and how to manage their carbon. (Was just checking what phospate-free cleaning products are available whilst auditing a University Conference Centre for a 'Green Tourism' standard.)

PPS. It's been a long, hard winter. Must be time for a Spring...


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