The Negative Health Effects of Chlorine

Jul 14, 2010 by

By Joseph G Hattersley

Previously published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 2000;15;2:89-95.

(Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, Editor)


Federal regulations require chlorine treatment of the water supplied to urban/suburban areas of America and much of Canada from surface sources such as lakes, reservoirs and rivers. That constitutes about 75% of water that Americans consume. Water from underground sources generally is nor chlorinated unless it is supplemented by surface water.  My hometown, Lacey, Washington, and some surrounding communities that are supplied water by Lacey, are fortunate to be among that group.

Chlorination is inferior water treatment on at least two counts. (1) Although it has greatly lowered infectious waterborne diseases in the US and Canada, chlorination fails against a variety of water problems including parasites and can seriously harm people who use the water, (2) Its cost is unnecessarily high. As of 1996, Andover, Massachusetts’ new ozone treatment costs $83 per million gallons of treated water, only two-thirds as much as the old treatment process. The town saves $64 000 annually in chemicals costs alone and uses less electricity.

Possible Damage to Arteries

When chlorinated water is run through a hose or carried in a pail followed by milk as in a dairy, “very tenacious, yellowish deposits chemically similar to arterial plaque” form. With unchlorinated water this doesn’t happen.

CBS’ 60 Minutes show July 11, 1992, displayed two laboratory rats, both of them eating standard rat chow and drinking chlorinated water. One rat had clear arteries. The other was also on pasteurised, homogenized milk. When the animals were sacrificed and cut open, the arteries of the milk-drinking rats were clogged. A scientist in a white coat winked at the camera and said, “he (the live rat he was holding) is the only one doing research on that”. The researcher didn’t say why, but the powerful dairy and chemical lobbies come to mind.

Dairy buckets, hoses and rats’ arteries resist the arterial-wall damage known as atherosclerosis. But what can chlorinated water and cow’s milk, particularly homogenized milk, do to the far more susceptible arteries of humans? Those of young chickens are about as susceptible to such damage as people’s arteries. So as first approximation JM Price, MD gave cockerels (roosters less than a year old) only chlorinated water (without milk). They developed arterial plaques and the stronger the concentration of chlorine, the faster and worse the damage. Cockerels on unchlorinated water developed no such damage.

The residents of the small town of Roseto, Pennsylvania had no heart attacks despite a diet rich in saturated animal fats and milk – until they moved away from Roseto’s mountain spring water and drank chlorinated water. After that, consuming the same diet, they had heart attacks. The Roseto example is dramatic enough, but the needed detailed comparisons and following have never been done.

How well does the incidence of heart attacks match the areas where water is/ was chlorinated? Chlorination spread throughout America in the second and third decades of this century, about 20 years before the mushrooming of heart attacks. Light chlorination we will recall, yielded slow growth of plaques in Price’s cockerels; and so chlorination of people’s drinking water at the usual low concentration might have been expected to take at least 10-20 years to produce clinical manifestations of atherosclerosis.

A physician team led by William F. Eons autopsied 300 GIs who had died in battle in the Korean War. These men, who had passed induction examination as healthy, averaged 22.1 years of age. To their shock and amazement, in 77% of the 300 the pathologists found “gross evidence of arteriosclerosis in the coronary arteries”. In several, one or more heart arteries were partly or completely occluded.

Although Dr. Enor didn’t try to explain his discovery, he assumed arterial clogging had developed gradually. Seeming to support that assumption, almost 20 years later pathologists discovered early arterial damage in 96% of nearly 200 consecutive babies who had died of whatever cause in their first month outside the womb. Two of those babies’ coronary arteries were blocked, causing infantile heart attacks. Identified as crib deaths, these were related to functionally deficient vitamin B6.

But did arterial damage in fact develop slowly? The water that the American soldiers had to drink Korea was so heavily chlorinated that many could hardly tolerate it. In Vietnam too, autopsies of American soldiers found heart-artery damage. Again, water supplied to them had been heavily chlorinated. Did much of the soldiers’ arterial damage develop, not gradually but quickly, as in Dr Price’s cockerels? The truth – slow or rapid development of clogging – may never be known. Interestingly, from 1950 to 1965 while heart attacks mushroomed, on a population level arterial lesions did not increase. The major growth was in clotting.

Chemical Background

Highly reactive chlorine is one of the industrial waste products profitably disposed of by using people as garbage cans, then on into the environment. Chlorine oxidizes lipid contaminants in the water. It thus creates free radicals, (highly reactive atomic or sub-atomic particles lacking an electron) and oxysterols (formed when lipid and oxygen molecules combine).

To function we require moderate numbers of both free radicals and oxysterols. The immune system employs free radicals to kill cells tht its cellular immune mechanism can’t handle. A second mechanism using free radicals initiates programmed cell suicide known as apoptosis. And moderate quantities of oxysterols, like cholersterol itself, serve a protective function. But excess free radicals and excess oxysterols damage arteries and initiate cancer, among many other kinds of harm.

How does chlorine in water cause these problems? It destroys protective acidophilus, which nourishes and cooperates with the 3 to 3-1/2 pounds of immunity-strengthening “friendly” organisms lining the colon, where about 60% of our immune cells operate. And chlorine combines with organic impurities in the water to make trihalomethanes (THMs), or chloramines. The more organic mater, the more THMs; and like excess oxysterols they are carcinogens.

Industrial chemist JP Bercz, PhD, showed in 1992 that chlorinated water alters and destroys essential fatty acids (EFAs), the building blocks of brains and central nervous systems. The compound hypochlorite, created when chloring mixes with water, generates excess free radicals; these oxidize EFAs, turning them rancid.

Most Western diets contain very little of critically needed omepa-3 EFAs. These are found in fish oil and better, in flaxseed oil; also in moderate quantity in first-virgin olive oil. These EFAs except in olive oil, go rancid quickly. And so, to extend their products’ shelf life food processors remove all health-promoting EFAs, as well as destroying or discarding most needed micronutrients.

Processors substitute partially hydrogenated trans, transformed fats. Found in all boxed and packaged foods that have long lists of hard-to-pronounce chemical names on the side, trans fatty acids consumed in large quantity can cause heart attacks and many other degenerative diseases.

Among the THMs that result from chlorine combining with organic compounds in water are carcinogenic chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. It is the combination of chlorine and organic materials already in the water that produces cncer-causing byproducts. The more organic matter in the water, the greater is the accumulation of THMs.

In a study of more than 5,000 pregnant women in the Fontana, Walnut Creek and Santa Clara areas of California, researchers from the state health department found that women who drank more than five glasses a day of tap water containing over 75 parts per billion of YHMs had a 9.5% risk of spontaneous abortion, i.e. miscarriage. Women less exposed to the contaminants showed 5.7% risk; no comparison was given for women who ingested no THMs.

Other Risks of Chlorinated Water

Chlorine in swimming pools reacts with organic matter such as sweat, urine, blood, feces and mucus and skin cells to form more chloramines. Chloroform risk can be 70 to 240 times higher in the air over indoor pools than over outdoor pools. And Canadian researchers found that after an hour or swimming in the chlorinated pool, chloroform concentrations in the swimmers’ blood ranged from 100 to 1.093 parts per billion (ppb). If the pool smells very much of chlorine, don’t go near it.

Taking a warm shower or lounging in a tub filled with hot chlorinated water, one inhales chloroform. Researchers recorded increases in chloroform concentration in bathers’ lungs of about 2.7 ppb after a 10-minute shower. Worse, warm water causes the skin to act like a sponge; and so one will absorb and inhale more chlorine in a 10-minute shower then by drinking eight glasses of the same water.

This irritates the eyes, the sinuses, throat, skin and lungs, dries the hair and scalp, worsening dandruff. It can weaken immunity.

A window from the shower room open to the outdoors would release chloroform from the shower room air. But to prevent its absorption through the skin requires a showerhead that removes chlorine.The ShowerWise filter can do this.

Dishwashers pollute indoor air with chlorinated organics created from dishwasher detergents and volatilised in the air for us to breathe. They vent 5 to 7 liters (quarts) of air into the house air every minute of operation. The chlorine reacts with food scraps.  Ceramic disks, used instead of detergents, totally avoid the problem and are said to be about 75% less costly the detergent.

Relation to Melanoma and Cancers

Studies in Belguim have related development of deadly malignant melanoma to consumption of chlorinated water. Drinking and swimming in chlorinated water can cause melanoma. Sodium hypochlorite, used in chlorination of water for swimming pools, is mutagenic in the Ames test and other mutagenicity tests. Redheads and blonds are disproportionately melanoma-prone; their skin contains a relative excess of pheomelanins compared to darker people. Franz H Rampen of the Netherlands said worldwide pollution of rivers and oceans and chlorination of swimming pool water have let to an increase in melanoma.

That disease is not associated with exposure to ultraviolet light. People who work indoors all the time, exposed to fluorescent lights, have the highest incidence of melanoma. And the disease usually appears on parts of the body that are not often exposed to sunlight.

Other Harm from Chlorination

Long-term risks of consuming chlorinated water include excessive free radical formation, which accelerates aging, increases vulnerability to genetic mutation and cancer development, hinders cholesterol metabolism and promotes harcening of arteries.

Excess free radicals created by chlorinated water also generate dangerous toxins in the body. These have been directly linked to liver malfunction, weakening of the immune system and pre-arteriosclerotic changes in arteries (which, as we saw, struck Dr. Price’s cockerels and may have happened to American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam). Excessive free radicals have been linked also to alterations of cellular DNA, the stuff of inheritance. Chlorine also destroys antioxidant vitamin E, which is needed to counteract excess oxysterols/free radicals for cardiac and anti-cancer protection.

A study in the late 1970s found that chlorinated water appears to increase the risk of gastrointestinal cancer over a person’s lifetime by 50 to 100%. This study analyzed thousands of cancer deaths in North Carolina, Illinois, Wisconsin and Louisiana. Risk of such cancers results from use of water containing chlorine at or below the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standard and “is going to make the EPA standard look ridiculous” stated Dr. Robert Harris, Lead scientist in the study.

A later meta-analysis found chlorinated water is associated each year in America with about 4,200 cases of bladder cancer and 6,500 cases of rectal cancer. Chlorine is estimated to account for 9% of bladdercancer cases and 18% of rectal cancers.  Those cancers develop because the bladder and rectum store waste products for periods of time. (Keeping the bowels moving regularly lowers such risk). Chlorinated water is associated, too, with higher total risk of combined cancers. Chlorine in treated water can also cause allergic symptoms ranging from skin rash to intestinal symptoms to arthritis, headaches and on and on.

Recent research has found a new hazard in chlorinated water: a byproduct called MX. A research team from the National Public Health Institute in Finland discovered that, by causing genetic mutations, MX initiates cancer in laboratory animals. Also DCA (dichloroacedic acid) in chlorinated water alters cholesterol metabolism, changing HDL (“good”) to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol – and causes liver cancer in laboratory animals.

Naturalwise recommends…

Dont risk your health and well-being. Use a good quality water purifier like a Water distiller or Reverse Osmosis Purifier in your home and office to remove chlorine and other harmful substances from your drinking and cooking water.The Showerwise is great for removing chlorine and other contaminants from shower water. All these products are readily available for online purchase now or can be ordered by email or telephone.

Feel free to call or email us for further information or help choosing the best water purifier to meet your needs. We are here to help.

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Comment