Chlorine bleach is a common household product used for cleaning. Often marketed under common brands, chlorine bleach is produced by the chemical breakdown of salt water components; however, elemental chlorine at room temperature and pressure is in a gas state. The process of producing the bleach combines sodium with chlorine to produce sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient of bleach. Chlorine bleach may be an inexpensive cleaning product, but it poses serious health risks.
Short-term High-level Exposure
The vapours of chlorine bleach at levels of three to six parts per million (ppm) in the air can cause irritation in the eyes. At higher levels, about 15 ppm in the air, you can experience nose and throat irritation. Touching chlorine bleach directly can cause skin irritation. Ingesting chlorine levels over four ppm can cause nausea, vomiting, throat and stomach irritation. Breathing air that has higher than 30 ppm levels of chlorine has the same health effects as inhaling liquid bleach vapours. With immediate exposure to 30 ppm or higher levels of chlorine gas, you may encounter vomiting, chest pain, coughing, excess fluid in the lungs, or difficulty breathing. Exposure to 430 ppm in the air for half an hour will cause death.
Mixed With Ammonia
When chlorine bleach comes into contact with ammonia, it results in the creation of the hazardous chlorine gas. Chlorine gas is toxic, and many deaths have already resulted from unintentionally mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia. Chlorine gas causes the tearing of nasal passages, lungs and the trachea by causing cellular damage. If you have ammonia and chlorine bleach both present in your household, be careful in storing them and inform everyone about its byproducts. Aside from chlorine gas, the mixture of ammonia with chlorine can produce nitrogen tetrachloride. A tetrachloride is a very toxic substance and nitrogen tetrachloride is highly explosive as well. In addition, chlorine gas is sometimes produced when chlorine bleach is mixed with other cleaning products that have acid content. For instance, vinegar, drain cleaners and other scouring products are acidic. This can be very dangerous, especially when the bleach includes chemicals that mask the smell of chlorine.
Long-term Low-level Exposure
Several years of exposure to chlorine bleach will affect one’s organ systems. Effects of long-term exposure to chlorine gas includes lung diseases and tooth corrosion. People who are already suffering from lung disease, smokers and people with respiratory problems are more chlorine-sensitive.