Letter to the EditorDisinfection: Truth in Advertising

The Chlorine Chemistry Council® and the Chlorine Institute, Inc., as well as the producers, packagers and users who comprise our memberships, have serious concerns...

By C.T. "Kip" Howlett, Jr. and Kathleen Shaver

The Chlorine Chemistry Council® and the Chlorine Institute, Inc., as well as the producers, packagers and users who comprise our memberships, have serious concerns about an advertisement from the MIOX Corporation published in the May issue of WaterWorld and the damaging message it conveys for everyone in the businesses of providing the world with that most precious of commodities: safe water delivered safely.

The ad's tag line, "Chlorine gas is an unsafe way to make water safe," unfairly maligns chlorine producers and the thousands of utilities that use chlorine gas to disinfect drinking water. Moreover, the ad promotes misinformation that ignores the chlorine industry's excellent safety record spanning 80 years – better than any other industrial manufacturer — and the industry's ongoing efforts to improve safety and security for its products.

Our chemical can be hazardous, and that is why we take safety extremely seriously. Since 1972 the chlorine industry has had a Chlorine Emergency Plan (CHLOREP)— a voluntary aid program to provide an organized and effective system for responding to chlorine emergencies in the U.S. and Canada. There are 75 trained CHLOREP teams positioned across the U.S. who are on-call every day, 24 hours a day.

All treatment chemicals require strict attention to proper safety protocol and storage and handling practices. Chlorine is a time-tested and proven product that has been studied for decades and is fully understood by the water industry. To claim it is unsafe for water treatment is essentially a rebuke of the professionally trained plant operators who use it.

The American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation and other technical water associations consistently support public policies that allow individual water systems to use a full range of available treatment technologies to best meet the unique needs of the communities they serve.

Calling chlorine gas an "unsafe" technology undermines this support, and gives unwarranted credence to claims that hazardous chemicals can simply be eliminated, without a full consideration of potential tradeoffs. Such a blanket generalization does the water industry and the general public a disservice by omitting the fact that, because of the trade-offs involved, switching from one disinfectant to another does not necessarily improve safety and security.

Chlorine disinfection of water is essential for public health protection and is recognized as one of the most significant public health advances of the 20th century, controlling pathogens that can cause waterborne disease. Only chlorine-based disinfectants leave a beneficial residual to protect the water as it travels from the treatment plant to the tap. Used in virtually all U.S. water treatment facilities, chlorine is the first line of defense against intentional bioterrorism. Its effectiveness against a wide spectrum of disease causing organisms, relatively low cost, and high reliability contribute to its popularity.

While a number of alternative disinfection methods exist, each technology has unique benefits, limitations and costs. These technologies should compete on their relative merits, not by exploiting public fears.

C. T. "Kip" Howlett, Jr. is Executive Director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council® and a Vice President of the American Chemistry Council. Kathleen Shaver is President of the Chlorine Institute, Inc.

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