Chlorine gas was a weapon used in both world wars and is a neurotoxin so poisonous that it was outlawed by international war codes. It cannot be screened out by our lungs, goes in faster than oxygen, is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream when it is inhaled, and if the concentration is adequate, death is instantaneous. As molecular biologist Joe Thornton explains, “There are no uses of chlorine which we regard as safe.” Yet chlorination, considered one of the greatest advance ever in public health and hygiene, is almost universally accepted as the method of choice for purifying water supplies.
Most drinking water in the USA comes from a surface water source, that is, a lake or river. These lakes and rivers are typically rich in invisible organic matter produced by decaying leaves and algae. During disinfection, chlorine randomly attaches to this organic matter to form thousands of newly created chemicals called “organochlorines.” Organochlorine compounds are not found naturally anywhere in the world, but once they are formed by combining chlorine with organic materials, they are extremely toxic and very stable. Most of them don’t break down for hundreds of years.
Organochlorines are easily absorbed into our bodies and are lipophilic (stored in our fat cells) where they accumulate. According to molecular biologist Joe Thornton, “Chlorination virtually always increases toxicity.” A growing number of studies have linked chlorinated drinking water to cancer in humans. The most esteemed cancer study is a compilation of 10 separate epidemiological studies on chlorinated drinking water and cancer known as the Morris study. It found disinfection by-products in chlorinated water to be responsible for 9% of all bladder cancers and 15% of rectal cancers in the USA. This translates into 10,000 additional deaths per year for just these two organs.
According to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.” Prolonged exposure has also been shown to produce birth defects, immune system problems, and reproductive disorders.
Although water disinfection accounts for only a small percentage of total global organochlorine production, the effect on human health is proportionately greater because exposure to chlorinated drinking water is large and continuous. It is piped right into our homes. But organochlorines in our drinking water are just the tip of the iceberg! The most toxic organochlorine is dioxin, which is the most caustic man-mad chemical known. “Dioxin” is a general term for hundreds of chemicals that are produced in industrial processes that use chlorine and burning. Disturbingly, it has a half-life of over one hundred years when it is leached into soil or embedded in water systems. Dioxin was the most harmful component in Agent Orange, which contributed to over half a million birth defects in Vietnam!
A draft report released for public comment in September 1994 by the U.S. EPA clearly describes dioxin as a serious public health threat. In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) announced that the most potent dioxin is now considered a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning a “known human carcinogen.” Of course the EPA maintains that low levels of dioxin are “safe.”
In addition to cancer, dioxin can cause reproductive and developmental disorders, liver damage, chloracne, skin rashes, skin discoloration, etc.
A typical American will receive 93% of his/her dioxin exposure form meat and dairy products. In fish, these toxins bio accumulate up the food chain so that dioxin levels in fish are 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment. The main sources of dioxin are the paper production industry, the plastic production industry, and incinerators that burn chlorinated waste.
Recent scientific research has clearly demonstrated an association between organochlorines and breast cancer. Analyses of the breast fat of women with breast cancer found that DDT, its derivative DDE, PCBs. And other organochlorine pollutants actually concentrate in the cancer tissue itself, in contrast with surrounding non-cancerous tissue. Organochlorines are not only often overtly toxic, but they also possess estrogenic activity. In other words, they mimic estrogen. Chemicals that function like estrogen are called xenoestrogens (literally “foreign estrogens”) and wreak havoc in a number of ways. A woman’s earliest and most dangerous contact with them may be in the womb. Xenoestrogens have been linked to breast cancer as well as an increase in reproductive abnormalities in males, including prostate cancer and testicular cancer.