By: Melanie Forti, Program Director

Growing up as a Latina, it was normal to use bleach to clean around the house, and to clean our clothes. Because everyone knows that whiter whites means cleaner clothes (or so I thought).  Little did I know the adverse health effects that bleach can cause to humans until I experienced it myself while cleaning my bathroom and almost collapsed.  Although it is undeniable that bleach does its work, we cannot cover our eyes and deny that it can be harmful to one’s health.

Bleach is a chlorine-based corrosive substance.  Chlorine is a chemical element that can be found as liquid, gas, or in a solid state, and is among the ten highest volume chemicals manufactured in the United States. It was the first agent of chemical warfare in WWI. Since then it has been added to our nation’s water supply and other products used in the home.

According to the U.S. environmental Protection Agency (EPA) many household products found under the kitchen sink are considered pesticides.  Unfortunately, often we don’t realize that we are exposing our family members by bringing home these pesticides.  Mixing bleach with other products may cause even more serious health problems especially when mixed with ammonia, vinegar, or any other acid type cleaning material. Bleach can be toxic to every living being and our environment.

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Health Effects of Bleach

As you may know (or even have experienced), the fumes from bleach are very strong. When it’s inhaled, it may cause a variety of health problems. Bleach is very irritating and corrosive to the skin, lungs, and eyes. As well, it has been known to burn human tissue internally or externally.  On top of this- it may cause skin rash, extreme headaches, migraines, muscle weakness, abdominal discomfort, esophageal perforation, nausea and vomiting. In addition, it can damage the nervous system.

People that have a respiratory problem should avoid the use of bleach because it can worsen especially people suffering from asthma and allergies. Other symptoms may occur such as stinging sensation in the eyes and nose, coughing and breath shortness.   Bleach fumes can accumulate and linger in poorly-ventilated homes. Indoor air becomes polluted with toxins, endangering the health of all those who breathe it in.

As parents, we hope and try to provide our children with a safe and healthy environment.  However when children and pets for that matter are exposed to bleach and bleach fumes they can become very susceptible to the adverse health effects because their immune systems cannot fight off the harsh chemicals and their lungs are smaller and can fill with the toxic fumes. Even the passive or indirect exposure to bleach can cause childhood respiratory illness and other infections.

In case of bleach poisoning follow these:

  • Call Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222
  • If you get bleach on your skin or in your eyes, flush the area with running water for a minimum of 15 minutes.
  • If you accidentally swallow bleach you must drink milk or water immediately, unless you experience vomiting or convulsions.
  • If you inhale bleach you must seek fresh air immediately.
  • If on your clothes, take of your cloth without rubbing into the skin and wash immediately separately from the rest of your clothes.


Environmental Effects of Bleach

In addition to dangerous health effects, bleach has been known to be a polluter to our environment.  Industries use bleach for different purposes such as to treat our water system, clean buildings, bleach pulps or paper mills, and others.

When bleach is poured in our waters it mixes with minerals and elements to create a host of dangerous toxins that can take many years to dissolve. 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.”  Also, breast cancer has been linked recently to the accumulation of chlorine compounds in the breast tissue. A study from Hartford Connecticut, found that “women with breast cancer have 50% to 60% higher levels of organochlorines in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer.”

Bleach is also a contributor polluting our air especially when factories use chlorine bleach.  It releases toxins into the air during the ventilation and exhaust processes.   An article from states that airborne chlorine bleach by-products eventually reach Earth’s atmosphere and the ozone layer. According to Audubon Magazine, chlorine bleach is linked to ozone depletion, which has far-reaching environmental effects in terms of global warming.

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What can we do?

Instead of using corrosive household cleaning products, we can start incorporating earth-friendly alternatives to clean our house and clothes.

Bleach is not the only alternative to clean or disinfect; we can opt to go green in order to avoid any health or environmental hazard.  There are natural alternatives to bleach.  Here are some options:

  • hydrogen peroxide
  • lemon juice
  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • citric acid
  • lemon essential oil

Not every product sold at pharmacies and supermarkets are as safe as we think. In the future before buying any household cleaning products stop and ask yourself how worth is bleach?

At AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs we provide our nation’s farmworkers with the tools and examples of what to do and how to prevent pesticide poisoning at home through our Limiting Exposures Around Families (LEAF) curriculum.   From January – September 2016, we were able to train 11,236 farmworkers on how to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposures at home.