Jill Bronaugh
Communication Manager
Office of the State Fire Marshal
800 SW Jackson, Suite 104
Topeka, KS 66612-1216
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Press Releases

The Hazards of Chlorine Exposure

OSFM | Aug 19, 2015
Cleaning with Chlorine

What chlorine is

Chlorine is an element used in industry and found in some household products. It can be a poisonous gas or a liquid. Chlorine gas can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odor, which smells like bleach (the strong smell may be a warning of exposure).

Chlorine gas appears to be yellow-green in color. While not flammable, it can react explosively or form explosive compounds with other chemicals like turpentine or ammonia.

How chlorine exposure happens

People may be exposed to chlorine through skin or eye contact, or by breathing contaminated air. People may be exposed by touching or drinking water exposed to chlorine, or by eating food contaminated with liquid chlorine.

People’s risk for exposure depends on how close they are to the place where the chlorine was released.  Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it settles in low-lying areas.

How chlorine works

The extent of poisoning caused by chlorine depends on the amount of chlorine a person is exposed to, how the person was exposed, and the length of time of the exposure.

When chlorine gas comes into contact with moist tissues such as the eyes, throat, and lungs, an acid is produced that can damage these tissues.

Signs of chlorine exposure

During or immediately after exposure to dangerous concentrations of chlorine, the following signs and symptoms may develop:

· Coughing

· Chest tightness

· Burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes

· Watery eyes

· Blurred vision

· Nausea and vomiting

· Burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin if exposed to gas

· Skin injury similar to frostbite if exposed to liquid chlorine

· Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath (may appear immediately if high concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled, or may be delayed if low concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled)

· Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) within 2 to 4 hours

How to protect yourself, and what to do if exposed to chlorine

Should you find yourself exposed to chlorine, leave the area, getting to fresh air quickly.

If outdoor release, move away from the release, to the highest ground possible. If indoor release, get out of the building immediately. If you think you may have been exposed, remove your clothing, rapidly wash your entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible.

Tips for handling of exposed clothing

· Remove clothing quickly, do NOT pull over head.

· Seal clothing in a plastic bag. Then double seal the first bag into a second plastic bag.

· Inform emergency or medical personnel you have sealed the clothing - do NOT handle the bags.

· If helping others - avoid touching contaminated areas, remove clothing quickly and seal.

· Wash the entire body with soap and water quickly.

· If your eyes are burning or your vision blurred, rinse your eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes. (remove  contact lens first, bag them and do not put them back in)

· If you wear eyeglasses, wash them thoroughly with soap and water before putting them back on.

If you swallowed chlorine, do not induce vomiting or drink fluids, just seek immediate medical attention.