The chemical element chlorine has been used for years in sanitation, disinfection, and antisepsis.
What is Chlorine Used For?
In the form of hypochlorous acid, chlorine is used to kill bacteria in water treatment plants and public swimming pools. Chlorine is also a major element of disinfectants and bleach, so it can be found in many domestic, commercial, and industrial cleaning products.
But chlorine has also historically been used as a weapon. It was used on the battlefields of the First World War, and more recently as a chemical weapon in Iraq and Syria.
Despite its ubiquity and its life-saving role in sanitation and disinfection, chlorine is a highly toxic gas. Short-term exposure can cause certain health hazards. Long-term exposure can be lethal.
Short-Term Effects of Chlorine Exposure
You might have noticed the short-term effects of chlorine exposure from spending a little too long in a swimming pool: Blurred vision, a burning sensation in the eyes, throat or skin, a shortness of breath, chest pains, and nausea.
If chlorine can cause this much damage in the short-term, then imagine what it can do in the long-term.
The Long-Term Effects of Chlorine Exposure
The long-term effects of chlorine exposure can include the development of chronic lung problems, including bronchitis and asthma, and even some cancers.
Even a short, single exposure to high concentrations of chlorine can cause immediate lung damage, which could be irreparable. Breathing high concentrates can also lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs, which can result in suffocation and death.
Who’s At Risk of Long-Term Chlorine Exposure?
Anyone who works in any industry that makes use of chlorine is at risk of exposure. This might include:
- Commercial cleaning staff, and cleaning personnel in hospitals, schools, universities, and other public buildings.
- Anyone who works around or near a swimming pool, including health club staff, lifeguards, and professional swimmers and their coaches.
- Sewage treatment and water purification workers.
- Workers involved in plastics manufacturing and bleach, chemical and pharmaceutical production.
How to Manage the Risks of Long-Term Chlorine Exposure
- Learn to spot the signs. Chlorine has a distinctive, highly unpleasant smell, so you should have no trouble detecting a leak. But you should also be able to recognise the symptoms of both short- and long-term exposure, in both yourself and your colleagues.
- Use adequate PPE. Ensure that anybody who handles chlorine in your workplace has adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) for the task at hand. Read our guide to choosing the right PPE.
- Follow the procedures. Abide by the COSHH guidelines when it comes to short- and long-term exposure limits. And have a thorough cleaning and containment procedure in place in the event of a leak or spillage.
- Keep things ventilated. A good air filtration system can cycle the air in a room, removing any potentially harmful gases. This can help reduce the risks of exposure from cleaning products, for example.
Chlorine Exposure Monitoring Services
For total peace of mind that you’re doing all you can to protect your staff from exposure to chemicals, we offer workplace exposure monitoring services.
We’ll employ both continuous monitoring and personal sampling processes to help you understand the exposure risks in your workplace. We’ll then produce a comprehensive report including clear and actionable recommendations, so you’ll know exactly what to do to safeguard your staff.
Head here to learn more about our workplace exposure monitoring services, and find out how we can help you manage the risks of chlorine in your organisation.