Chlorine gas has been used by insurgents in Iraq in combination with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Most people exposed to chlorine gas make a complete recovery; however, severe exposures can result in death or permanent damage to the lungs and difficulty breathing. What is chlorine a d how is it used?
Chlorine is a yellow-green gas at room temperature. It changes to liquid when under pressure – for example in compressed gas cylinders. Chlorine gas is heavier than air and has a strong irritating odor like bleach. We are able to smell chlorine at levels much lower than those levels considered harmful.
Chlorine is widely used in industry (notably in paper mills and chemical manufacturing plants), for disinfecting drinking water and swimming pools, and in household bleach. When used properly and at appropriate levels, chlorine is a safe and effective disinfectant.
How can chlorine gas exposure occur? Most major occurrences of chlorine gas exposure have occurred as a result of the release of “bulk” chlorine, for example in road or rail accidents involving chlorine gas tanks, or following damage to industrial facilities. Chlorine is an important toxic industrial chemical (TIC) because it has been intentionally used as a weapon during World War I and in IED detonations in Iraq. Chlorine gas or other caustic chlorine compounds may also be released at dangerous levels in the household following the mixing of bleach with ammonia or acids.
What are possible immediate effects of exposure to chlorine gas?
Chlorine gas is irritating and corrosive to the airways, eyes, and skin.
The effects of chlorine gas exposure to your health depends on how long you were exposed, the amount you were exposed, how it enters or impacts your body, and your body’s response to the chlorine.
Relatively low levels of chlorine gas can cause sore throat, coughing, and eye and skin irritation, while higher levels can cause burning of the eyes and skin, nausea, temporary blindness, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. At high enough levels, chlorine gas can cause immediate collapse and death. What can I do to limit or reduce exposure to chlorine gas?
Emergency measures to limit exposure include rapidly moving as far away from the gas as possible.