The Effects of Chlorine Bleach on the Environment

Chlorine bleach is a standard household product often used for cleaning and disinfecting. Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, a chemical containing chlorine. Because of its ability to kill bacteria and algae and remove stains, chlorine beach use is very common. Chlorine gas can be very dangerous, but sodium hypochlorite solution when used correctly and in the right amounts has very few harmful effects on the environment.

  1. Background

    • Chlorine bleach is used for everything from recyled paper to swimming pools to purifying water. While it does leech out dyes in fabric, it does not bleach the environment in the same way. Bleach biodegrades almost completely in the environment into oxygen, salt, and water. In fact, household bleach both begins and ends as saltwater. Chlorine in its gas form, seen only rarely and in industrial settings, can have very harmful effects but chlorine bleach itself has almost no environmental threat.

    Minimal Harmful Effects

    • Chlorine in its raw form does not appear in nature; it is created when electricity splits a salt molecule causing a gas. Chlorine bleach is created by bubbling chlorine into a solution of sodium hydroxide and water, effectively converting all free chlorine into sodium hypochlorite. After use and disposal, 95 to 98 percent of chlorine bleach breaks down quickly. Septic and sewage systems take care of the remainder. Ground water contamination does not occur because the chlorine does not survive in any amount after treatment in septic systems or sewage treatment plants.

    Bleach Reactions

    • When mixed with other compounds, however, dangerous effects can occur. When mixed with ammonia or acids, including acids in vinegar or other household cleaners, harmful gases may arise. Bleach does react with other organic materials in drinking water and created non-biodegradable chlorinated organic byproducts. Organochlorides occur when chlorine reacts with carbon-containing substances. While chlorine bleach itself is degradable, these compounds are toxic and damage the ozone layer. Chlorine-free bleaches are available as a household cleaner substitute for those concerned about chlorine in general.

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