New Year’s Resolution #7 – Reduce Your Chlorine Use

Chlorine is everywhere – it’s one of the basic elements necessary for life and is the main component of common salt. So what makes it such a damaging pollutant? Chlorine as it is found in nature isn’t dangerous at all. Instead, it’s man-made chlorinated compounds that are causing numerous health problems and wreaking havoc on the environment. Artificial chlorine compounds used in the manufacture of solvents, plastics, pesticides, and other industrial products make their way into the environment where they poison plants, animals, and waterways. In fact, some of the most well-known environmentally damaging chemicals are chlorinated compounds, including CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), which deplete the ozone layer, and DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which is toxic to plant and animal life. That’s why our seventh New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to reduce your use of chlorine.

The most common place to find chlorine in your home is right in your laundry room: it’s the main component in most commercial bleaches. To avoid the negative effects of chlorine bleaches, which include irritation of the skin and respiratory tract, opt instead for safer oxygen-based bleaches. Chlorine-free cleaners are also available for home pools and spas.

Chlorine is also used to disinfect most municipal water supplies. While this guarantees that your tap water is free of water-borne diseases and pathogens, those chlorine compounds can combine with organic matter to produce toxins called THMs (trihalomethanes), which are linked to a variety of health problems. You can reduce the risk posed by chlorinated tap water by installing showerheads and sink faucets that filter out chlorine.

One of the main sources of industrial chlorine pollution is paper mills, which use chlorine to bleach white paper. Run-off from paper mills contaminates natural systems with chlorine compounds and mills also release toxic chlorinated compounds called dioxins into the air. White paper can easily be manufactured using non-chlorine bleaches, but so far economic pressures have prevented companies from switching to cleaner methods. You can help the environment by supporting paper manufacturers that use non-chlorine bleaches. When you’re shopping for paper, look for labels that say processed or totally chlorine free.

Another industrial use for chlorine is the manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a common plastic used in construction and packaging. PVC is a major source of dioxins and releases these and other dangerous chlorine compounds during its entire lifecycle. PVC is marked with resin code #3, which makes it easy to avoid in stores. Look instead for metal, wood, or glass options.

Dry cleaning is yet another application of chlorinated compounds, mainly the solvent known as perc (perchloroethylene). Perc is frequently released directly into the atmosphere, and residue can stay on clothes long after you take them home. You can help keep perc out of the environment and your home by avoiding traditional dry cleaners, although you should be cautious when choosing a green dry cleaner: many use a chemical called DF 2000, which, while not a chlorinated compound, is still a toxic petrochemical. Instead look for cleaners that use either COor a chlorine-free wet cleaning method.

Chlorine is used in a variety of other industrial applications, and while it can be difficult to figure out if the products you buy were produced using chlorine, there are a number of non-profit organizations that certify products as chlorine free. The Chlorine Free Products Association certifies goods as either totally chlorine free or processed chlorine free, and any wood or paper products carrying the FSC logo will also have been manufactured without the use of chlorine. If you want to get more involved in getting rid of chlorine, join organizations that lobby against the use of chlorinated chemicals in plastics, pesticides, and solvents. Chlorine is a major industrial chemical, and it’s not going anywhere unless we make our voices heard.

Goals for 2012

• Swap out chlorine bleaches for oxygen-based cleaners.

• Get rid of pool chlorine by installing a chlorine-free cleaning system.

• Install a filtering showerhead to remove chlorine from your water at home.       

• Buy chlorine-free paper products.

• Stay away from PVC.

• Chose eco-friendly dry cleaners that use COor a wet cleaning method.

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