Chlorine, one of the 20 or so elements found in abundance in all living things, is under attack. Environmentalists have tried to condemn many man-made chlorine products as hazardous and have called for the government to ban them. However, chlorine is not only a constituent of man-made products but also is found in abundance in nature in the same formulations. It could no more easily be banned than sunlight or aflatoxin, a natural carcinogen produced by mold.
Responding to the pressure of activist groups and a media barrage, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to investigate the gradual elimination of chlorine use in certain industries. However, the exaggerated accusations regarding chlorine's damaging health effects do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Prestigious and well-respected scientific groups, including the Society of Toxicology, the American Chemical Society and the American Medical Association, have spoken out against simplistic strategies for grouping and eliminating chlorinated compounds.
Chlorine and chlorinated compounds are essential for maintaining America's health and for improving the standard of living in both the Western world and emerging nations. Consider the following: There is no suitable substitute for chlorine to protect people from waterborne diseases. Chlorinated pesticides allow the production of an adequate and inexpensive supply of fruits and vegetables. Chlorinated compounds are essential for the production of lifesaving pharmaceuticals. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the building block for much of our manufacturing industry and an invaluable component of building materials, consumer goods, medical equipment and many other products.
Certain chlorinated compounds can be considered health threats at high doses. But as with any potentially harmful chemical, chlorinated or not, safe management is the key to preventing harmful exposures and toxic consequences. In the past, harmful compounds have been identified and subsequently either controlled or banned. Similar efforts will continue in the future, and selective removal is the most responsible way to protect our health while continuing to reap the benefits of chlorine chemistry.