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How Bleach Works

Environmental Impact of Chlorine Bleach Use
Bleach is mainly a problem when your skin comes into contact with it, but it doesn't pose too many environmental risks.
Bleach is mainly a problem when your skin comes into contact with it, but it doesn't pose too many environmental risks.
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has evaluated multiple scientific studies on the effects of chlorinated drinking water, and the organization's found no evidence of risk for cancer, reproductive problems or birth defects [source: Environmental Protection Agency]. The European Commission (EC) also determined that the most common sources of exposure to chlorine bleach is through skin contact when using bleach for cleaning at home or through ingestion of chlorinated drinking water. Swallowing small amounts of swimming pool water may also be a risk, but there is no significant indirect exposure through the environment. The Commission determined that there is no evidence of negative health effects due to long-term exposure to small amounts of chlorine bleach [source: European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General].

According to the Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, when sodium hypochlorite is released into the air, it's broken down by sunlight and natural substances in the environment. Sodium hypochlorite does not accumulate in the food chain like some substances do, such as mercury. When sodium hypochlorite gets into water or soil, it breaks down into the ions sodium, calcium, and hypochlorite; these ions can potentially react with other substances in water, but the possible effects are not known [source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry].

In other health issues, bleach may help out. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found some improvement in children's eczema after bathing them with a diluted bleach solution; because all of the children in the study also had signs of a secondary bacterial skin infection, however, it's difficult to say whether the bleach helped the eczema or simply killed the infection and helped the skin to heal [source: Huang ].

When it's used properly, chlorine bleach can make your kitchen cleaner and your white clothes whiter. To learn more about bleach, see the links on the next page.

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