What is Bleach?
Bleach is the generic name for an industrial and commercial product most commonly used as a cleaning agent in millions of households. Bleach is widely used in the paper, cleaning, water treatment, and dental industries across the globe. Despite the miraculous cleaning powers, bleach is rife with chemicals – endangering the lives of aquatic animals when flushed down the toilet or drained down the sink. According to experts, bleach should only be applied in well-ventilated rooms and as far away from children and pets as possible; a testimony to the discrete but frightening toxicity of this everyday product.
Within the first four months of 2020, the U.S. poison control centre reported over 17,000 bleach poisonings in Americans alone. According to Doctors, the accidental or deliberate injection of bleach can shut down the nervous system and burn the esophagus, a thin tube that connects the throat to the stomach.
On the 23rd of April, 2020, Donald Trump at the White House press briefing suggested the consumption of disinfectants like bleach would be an effective killer of COVID-19. The result was a 77% increase in bleach poisonings in America as compared to April 2019.
For those who choose not to inject themselves with bleach, the fumes alone produced from minimal application can lead to significant health complications when inhaled. According to Melanie Forti, the director of Health & Safety programs, simply inhaling bleach fumes can lead to skin rashes, extreme headaches, migraines, abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting and can burn human tissues externally and internally.
A study conducted on bleach and its relation with respiratory tract infections looked at 9,000 children from 6 to 12 years of age and parents from the Netherlands, Spain and Finland. The questionnaire asked students if they had contracted flu or pneumonia-like symptoms over the past few years and asked parents how often they applied bleach in household cleaning.
The results revealed Spanish families were the highest users with almost 75% of households applying bleach when cleaning. Consequentially, respiratory tract infection rates were the highest among the youth Spanish population.
How does bleach affect the environment?
During COVID-19, disinfectant use has risen along with general hygiene practices. In Wuhan, China 135 animals were poisoned from the use of disinfectants in city streets with biologists requesting the application of harmful cleaning agents to be greatly reduced. An investigation by the Chongqing Forestry Bureau found 17 species such as wild boars, blackbirds and Siberian weasels had died after exposure to the dangerous chemicals.
In Spain, France, South Korea, and China ( among many others), significant use of harmful disinfectants, far exceeding advised limits, have been used. From trucks and drones drowning Chinese streets in chemicals, to Indonesia where tractors dumped hundreds of gallons of bleach onto a public beach.
According to the WHO, these practices are inefficient in affecting viruses, and pose a threat to human and animal health, especially when disinfectants are combined (e.g. ammonia and bleach). The WHO stated “Spraying disinfectant, even outdoors, can be noxious for people’s health and cause eye, respiratory or skin irritation or damage.”
Dioxins released as a byproduct of bleach can cause life-threatening effects. “[E]xposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer” says the WHO. Despite animal health, bleach has been referred to as a “non-selective type of herbicide” meaning it can kill plants, grasses and even weeds. For instance, if soil is exposed to bleach, the bacterial and fungal life-support networks of soil perish – depleting the soil’s ability to support terrestrial life within the area.
Bleach is often recognised as the master of cleaning, being one of the most widely known and used disinfectant products globally. Bleach is often used in products like the pulp and paper industry. The main purpose of which is to eliminate lignin that causes the browning of paper, thus whitening the final product consumers see.
Sheets of paper, tissues, toilet paper and much more are all bleached using dangerous chemicals like chlorine and hydrogen peroxide. It’s estimated over 100,000 chemicals are applied in commercial paper products.
Chlorine is especially toxic, finding its way into bodies and irritating bloodstreams. Yet despite the red flags, chlorine can be present in baby wipes, coffee filters, milk cartons and of course, bleach.
Even though such products have been accepted for household use, using bleached toilet paper for example can have implications on the drainage systems beneath, with dangerous chemicals killing much-needed microorganisms and restricting the degradability of the paper. Such issues can clog pipes or the sewer system, in turn creating blockage and potentially redirecting the waste back up into the house.
How much is the bleach industry worth?
The global teeth whitening industry as of 2020 was worth $8.6 billion AUD ($6.1 billion USD) and is expected to rise to $11.6 billion AUD ($8.2 billion USD) by 2026. For the disinfectant market, the 2019 market size was estimated to be worth $1.1 trillion AUD ($770.6 billion USD) with a predicted CAGR (Compound Anual Growth Rate) growth of 9.1% by 2027 according to Fortune Business Insights.
Clorox, one of the largest bleach companies has a market value of $24.5 billion AUD ($17.37 billion USD) as of February 2022. However, from 2020 to 2022 the business lost over $11.3 billion AUD ($8 billion USD) in value. Additionally, the skin-lightening industry ingrained with bleach was valued at $12.1 billion AUD ($8.6 billion USD) as of 2020.
The following are much greener and safer cleaning options for washing clothing, disinfecting etc:
– Vinegar is proven to be an effective killer of viruses and mould bacteria whether it be for clothing (add warm water) or disinfecting.
– Tea tree oil is a brilliant anti-fungal essential oil that can be applied to laundry or almost any household cleaning.
– Baking soda is known to be a very effective whitening agent, and softens clothes and deodorisers while also removing tough stains.
– Lemons, due to their citric acid help eliminate stains and can be used in coloured laundry, unlike bleach.
The recommendations above are a few of many natural alternatives to bleach. Consumers can also buy plant-based cleaning products from companies such as Earth Choice. As a general rule, anything that contains all-natural ingredients from plants, minerals etc will be a much safer and environmentally-conscious choice.
Case(s) in point:
In 2020, a restaurant cleaner in Massachusetts died after mixing two cleaning agents together – acid and bleach. Together, the agents produced toxic fumes. According to a Columbian prosecutor, 7 further deaths have been reported from the toxic bleach substance MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution) with Columbian figures suggesting the statistics to be even greater. In 2013, MMS stole the life of a 48-year-old woman suffering from intestine perforation. Cases of blindness have also been reported from the constant application and/or ingestion of bleach products in the United States.
It must be noted, bleach is not a destined killer and isn’t guaranteed to leave someone physically or mentally impaired. Nevertheless, the possible environmental and health-related consequences of using such product, does raise red flags. Houses beneath power lines raise eyebrows, and hazmat suits arrive promptly at the sight of asbestos; though it seems millions have missed the warning signs regarding bleach.