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Is Chlorine Menacing You in the Shower?

Even if you can't smell its pungent odor, chlorine may be harming you in your shower and bath, causing ailments ranging from headaches to neurotoxic reactions. Studies indicate that consumption of chlorinated water is linked to significantly increased rates of bladder, colon, and rectal cancer; and in the digestive tract, chlorine can upset the balance of intestinal flora and promote candida or other infections. Researchers also suggest that chlorine and its toxic by-products may be responsible for an increased risk of heart disease, allergic reactions, and miscarriages, with one recent study noting that chlorine-related toxins may eventually be proven "the most important environmental carcinogens in terms of the number of related cancers per year."

In addition to its adverse internal health effects, chlorine has unappealing external influence on hair and skin. As anyone who has spent too much time in an overly chlorinated pool can attest, chlorine irritates the eyes and aggravates mucous membranes in the nose and throat. Chlorine bonds with proteins in the hair, making it dry and brittle, and strips skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry, itchy, and prematurely aged.

That is not to say chlorine doesn't have its place, no doubt saving many lives in the prevention of deadly diseases, but that place should not be in your shower! Chlorine is an effective bacteria-killer in part because it is so reactive. Free chlorine in water oxidizes and kills microorganisms, and it also readily combines with other chemicals, such as carbon, to form toxic compounds such as carbon tetrachloride. When organic matter such as leaves fall into a reservoir, they decay and release organic compounds into the water. As chlorine combines with these, it forms water pollutants known as trihalomethanes (THMs). These highly toxic chlorination by-products include chloroform and trichloroethylene (TCE). If chlorine is present in water, in all likelihood these volatile chemicals are as well.

Although relatively small amounts are used to disinfect water supplies, even low concentrations of chlorine are clearly detrimental to human and animal health. It is widely considered an air pollutant at a mere 1 ppm (part per million). Inhaling high levels, like 600 ppm for 10 minutes can be fatal, a fact recognized by the military in World War One when chlorine was used to make poisonous gas weapons.