Chlorine is a light green gas discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1774. Liquid chlorine is most commonly used in swimming pools and water purification systems to stem the development of harmful bacteria. It is also used frequently in cleaning solvents and an array of industrial-strength and consumer cleaning products. Both gas and liquid chlorine have been linked to toxic effects in humans, with chlorine inhalation being the most common cause of poisoning.
Inhalation of pool chlorine can have various effects on the body. At low levels, it can cause damage to the skin, eyes and airway paths. It can also cause a burning sensation in the throat and severe coughing. At higher levels, pool chlorine inhalation can result in a tightening of the chest and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include a running nose and a tight, choking sensation in the throat. If fluid in the lungs reaches high levels, a person is likely to be at increased risk of catching pneumonia. According to the Toxipedia website, 2.5 mg per liter of chlorine will have fatal effects on the body, but as little 0.15 mg a litre can also be fatal if inhaled for prolonged periods.
There is no universally agreed antidote to the effects of inhaled chlorine. You should immediately call for medical help if you are with someone who is displaying the symptoms of chlorine inhalation poisoning. Don’t try to force the person to vomit unless you have received clear medical instructions to do so. If the chlorine has damaged the eyes or skin of the person, you should cleanse the affected areas with clean water. You should also take the person outside so they get a steady supply of fresh air which may help clear their lungs of the chlorine. According to the Chlorine Institute Report, symptoms are often reversible if the affected person is swiftly removed from the contaminated area.
Diagnoses of inhaled chlorine poisoning will be based on a medical assessment and specific patient history. People who have inhaled pool chlorine are usually treated with humidified oxygen to help dilute the effects of the poisoning. Medical staff may also manipulate airway routes to secure efficient ventilation, conduct blood tests and monitor pulse levels. According to the New York State Department of Health website, the accumulation of fluid in the lungs of someone suffering from chlorine inhalation may be delayed, so patients should be monitored for 24 hours after severe levels of exposure. The majority of victims of chlorine inhalation make a full recovery.