Chlorine has many essential uses and benefits, and the chlor-alkali industry is a critical part of the Canadian economy.
Drinking water disinfection
Canada began chlorinating drinking water in Ottawa in 1909, shortly after the start of continuous drinking water chlorination in the U.S. in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1908. Today, chlorine chemistry is relied upon in the vast majority of Canadian water treatment facilities. Chlorine is widely used in these applications because it is safe, reliable, and cost-effective compared to most alternative disinfectants, and can be employed in systems ranging in size from those serving small communities to those serving the largest metropolitan areas. Problems can arise, however, when chlorine disinfection is compromised. In 2000, in Walkerton, Ontario, for example, contamination and insufficient chlorination caused seven deaths, made over 2,400 people ill, and imposed an estimated $45 million in community costs. The public benefits from chlorine chemistry in water treatment because only chlorine-based disinfectants provide “residual disinfectant” levels that help prevent microbial regrowth, protecting treated water as it journeys from the treatment facility to the tap.
Chlorine-based bleaches and disinfectants are used in the home by consumers for more vivid whites in their laundry, cleaner swimming pools and spas, and combating germs on household surfaces. They are used in household products ranging from liquid automatic dishwater detergents, mould and mildew removers, bowl and drain cleaners, to disinfectant wipes and sprays.
Chlorine chemistry is essential to the manufacture of at least 88% of top-selling pharmaceuticals in the U.S. and Canada, including those used to treat ulcers, heart disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, immune system disorders, depression, and COPD. The use of pharmaceuticals can be viewed as a critical factor in reducing total healthcare costs as well as improving the quality of life for those who need them.
Treated recreational water disinfection
Chlorine-based pool and spa chemicals are essential to keeping treated recreational waters safe and healthy. Proper chlorination helps control harmful microorganisms in recreational waters that can cause diarrhea, ear infections such as swimmer’s ear, skin rashes, and fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Kiddie pools are notorious for bathroom-related “accidents.” Chlorine-based pool disinfectants help sanitize pool water in the wake of these accidents, restoring parents’ peace of mind.
Silicon, purified using chlorine chemistry, is central to the manufacture of integrated circuits for computers, solar cells, silicone-based products, glass optical fibers, and more. Silicon is the second most abundant chemical element on earth, but it is never found in its pure elemental state. Although manufactured with chlorine chemistry, there is no chlorine in these end-products.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a versatile, chlorine-containing plastic that is used in the production of hundreds of products that consumers encounter in everyday life, including window shades and blinds, patio furniture, upholstery, placemats, shower curtains, sporting goods, luggage, footwear, apparel, and handbags. PVC is also widely used in the manufacture of automotive parts, packaging, medical devices, electronics, and building and construction materials. It is an essential component in a variety of applications because of its low cost and desirable physical and mechanical properties.