Effect Measure

Whitewashing with the flu

Having taken on the American Chemical Society the other day, why stop there. Let’s talk about the American Chemistry Council, the ACC (neé the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, then the Chemical Manufacturers Association and now ACC). And bird flu. Yes, bird flu. The ACC is a trade association of the largest chemical companies and has a division called the Chlorine Chemistry Division which has just launched a website “dedicated to educating the public on flu prevention and recovery.” If you believe that I’ve got a 1995 Volvo with low mileage (for a Volvo) just for you. Only driven at the odd moments I wasn’t blogging. On Saturdays.

What’s this all about?

The site includes information on reducing the risk of contracting the flu and tips for disinfecting homes to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, the site includes a pandemic flu resource center and Dr. Ralph D. Morris, M.D., M.P.H., a public health preparedness consultant for the Minnesota Department of Health, authored ‘Dr. Ralph’s Preparedness Closet’ which includes a checklist for household items needed in the event of a flu pandemic. Tips include storing extra food and first aid supplies as well as communications equipment, personal hygiene products and water sanitizers. The site also highlights four simple steps to reducing flu risk including yearly vaccinations, proper personal hygiene, household cleanliness and limiting cross infection if one does become ill. (Medical World News)

What’s in the closet, Dr. Ralph? Number three on the list, household cleanliness, turns out this way (surprise!):

Controlling viral populations on household surfaces is an effective way to cut down on the spread of flu. Although flu viruses require live host cells to multiply and spread, they can live on inanimate surfaces for hours or even days. Chlorine bleach is a readily available and effective disinfectant for many germ-busting tasks. It kills flu viruses as well as a broad variety of bacteria, including Salmonella and Staph, on hard surfaces.

It’s important to remember, anti-bacterial dishwashing liquids and hand soaps contain an ingredient that kills bacteria on skin, but are not formulated for killing other germs such as cold and flu viruses.

Disinfect frequently used surfaces with a diluted chlorine bleach solution or disinfectant wipes.
Some common surface areas are “hot spots” for germs, including doorknobs, counters, table tops, dials, handles and switches. In fact, it can take up to 3 days for viruses on surface areas to die. To use chlorine bleach for general surface area disinfection, use a fresh mixture of ¼ cup of household bleach with one gallon of cool water (if you need a small amount, use one tablespoon of bleach in a quart of water). Apply to surfaces. Leave wet for 10 minutes, then rinse.

Disinfectant wipes also can be used to eliminate viruses on everyday items, such as telephones, cell phones, computer keys, computer mouse, arm rests and children’s toys.

Clean dishes, cups and utensils in the dishwasher.

If washing by hand, use very hot water and use a diluted bleach solution in the rinse water to disinfect. The right mix is 1/4 cup of household laundry bleach in one gallon of water.

Use chlorine bleach on white bedding, towels and other laundry as appropriate.

According to a 2004 study by the National Institute of Nursing Research, households that use hot water and bleach in the laundry experience almost 25% less infections than households that do not bleach.

Yes, that’s right. The flu solution is a bleach solution. Bleach, as in the dilute sodium salt of hypochlorous acid, as in “made with chlorine.” Because that’s what it’s all about. Some years ago I had the “pleasure” of working on a major EPA rulemaking about water disinfection. One of the issues was the propensity of the most common water disinfectant, chlorine, to form unwanted carcinogenic and teratogenic by-products during disinfection (named, appropriately, disinfection by-products, or DBPs). Chlorine disinfection has been enormously important in providing safe water to communities worldwide, but with the discovery of chlorine’s DBP “darkside” there has been a move towards other disinfectants like ozone (widely used in Europe) and ultraviolet light. This has been accelerated by the discovery that some important parasites, like giardia and cryptosporidium, are not affected by chlorine.

The Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC) was at the table during this rulemaking and fought tenaciously against any rule that would make it more difficult to use chlorine as a disinfectant. This was puzzling to me, because this use of chlorine makes up probably less than 1% of the chemical industry revenues from chlorine containing products. One of my savvy colleagues explained it to me. “Water disinfection is the poster child for the beneficial uses of chlorine, ” he said. “It is the bogeyman they raise whenever curbs on chlorine use are brought up. ‘Do you want cholera epidemics, again?'”

This “flu site” is just another part of the strategy to associate chlorine with beneficial uses. Not just beneficial ones, but lifesaving, necessary uses. Uses we’d be dead without. Bleach revenues are probably a negligible portion of the profits from chemicals containing chlorine, but they are an essential part of a large scale public relations effort to stop successful efforts like California’s to force a phase out of perchloroethylene (PCE). PCE, the drycleaning solvent, is a human carcinogen and may be related to birth defects and other diseases. It also one of the most prevalent contaminants in US groundwater. What will be next? PVCs, which when burned in municipal incinerators form dioxins? Heaven forbid.

So thanks for the helpful flu website, ACC. If you really want to know more about flu, though, I’d suggest a trip to The Flu Wiki or the many other links you can find there.

It is true, however, that bleach is very good for whitewashing.


  1. #1 Mark Catlin
    January 29, 2007

    History repeats itself – in the early 1940s, the concern was “war gas.” Check out the sponsor of this clip for US civilians on decontamination after a chemical gas attack GoogleVideo


  2. #2 M. Randolph Kruger
    January 29, 2007

    Yo Mark, that film is still used in chem/bio training in the military today. The agent they were talking about was liquid mustard gas. Chlorine was also used on phosgene as well. Still works today if your hamlet is hit by an attack of either.

    Re: giardia…. from the CDC website. We used to call this stuff the crud in the military. It will leave you with a ring on your butt from sitting on the head for days at a time. You can die from dehydration from it. Its not terribly serious and its treatable but you sure dont want it.

    “Tests used to specifically identify Giardia are often expensive, difficult, and usually require hundreds of gallons of water to be pumped through a filter. If you answered yes to the above questions, consider generally testing your well for fecal contamination by testing it for the presence of coliforms or E. coli instead of Giardia . Although tests for fecal coliforms or E. coli do not specifically tell you whether Giardia is present, these tests will show whether your well water has been contaminated by fecal matter.

    These tests are only useful if your well is not routinely disinfected with chlorine, since chlorine kills fecal coliforms and E. coli . If the tests are positive, it is possible that the water may also be contaminated with Giardia or other harmful bacteria and viruses. Contact your county health department, your county cooperative extension service, or a local laboratory to find out who offers water testing in your area. If the fecal coliform test comes back positive, indicating that your well is fecally contaminated, stop drinking the well water and contact your local water authority for instructions on how to disinfect your well.”

    Cryptosporidium apparently you just cant get rid of. If its in a well, then basically you have to get rid of the neighbor with the septic tank or horse/pig farm next door thats polluting it.

  3. #3 caia
    January 29, 2007

    Ok, I’d heard about using dilute bleach solution on countertops and such, but as a rinse for dishes? Wouldn’t you then have to rinse them again?

    My impression was that hot water and soap washed away most bacteria (no need for anti-bacterial soap) and viruses, and that letting dishes fully air dry killed the rest. That’s how I deal with cutting boards and such that have touched raw chicken. (I also microwave the wet sponge until it steams.)

    Do I have this wrong? Considering all the “it’s perfectly safe to eat if prepared properly” one hears on both bird flu and other things, I’d like to know.

    And are you saying chlorine bleach is not safe for household use? (Or is the problem ingesting it and its DBPs in our tap water.)

  4. #4 revere
    January 29, 2007

    caia: You are right. Soap and hot water works fine. The DBP problem relates to routine disinfection of drinking water where ingestion is over many years. There is benefit from chlorination but we now know there is also a risk. The DBP rule I worked on involved how to balance those two or whether to drive people to other, less problematic means of disinfection.

  5. #5 Karen
    January 29, 2007

    Leaning over caia’s shoulder…

    Bleach is my constant companion in the kitchen, so much so that I get teased about it. My son has picked up my habit and he gets teased, too. If bleach isn’t safe for household disinfection what should be done about e coli in ground beef and salmonella in chicken? Lysol? I can never believe that hot, soapy water is enough.

  6. #6 Karen
    January 29, 2007

    And now I’m posting on revere’s heels…

    So, soap and water are good enough. But if I feel as if the bleach is necessary…are you saying okay for regular cleaning but not for regular drinking?


  7. #7 revere
    January 29, 2007

    Karen: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. At least in the long run. Better to disinfect your water than not, but probably better to use another primary disinfectant if you are building a new treatment plant, say ozone with filtration and chlorine as a residual in the distribution system. You will still have some DBPs but far fewer. Having said that, we arestill not completely clear about all the DBPs from ozone, but chlorinated compounds are almost always more troublesome toxicologically than non-chlorinated ones, all things being equal.

  8. #8 Lea
    January 29, 2007

    Another alternative for disinfecting is 35% Hydrogen Peroxide – Food Grade. For many years, hydrogen peroxide has been used as an antiseptic and bleach and has many uses in the home.
    It’s used in our home to clean all vegetables and diluted in a spray bottle to clean counter tops, door knobs and so on. Also used as a mouthwash.
    The company is called Guardian Of Eden. It’s 35% hydrogen peroxide is packed with releasable oxygen atoms – the working element of h2o2. The product description and contents are only pure, undiluted 35% Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide that has been bottled into consumer sized containers less than 30 days before shipment.
    It’s a formula that requires caution in handling and the product doesn’t come cheap. Also best ordered in cooler weather as the container swells in warm weather.

  9. #9 caia
    January 29, 2007

    Karen: I usually spray the countertop with Lysol or something after I cut chicken, just for my own peace of mind. I know washing with hot water and soap would work, but I’d worry about it drying completely. And I make myself not comment when I see other people be less than cautious with cutting boards and such.

    I’m laid back about eggs, though I’ll taste raw batter, even though I know I shouldn’t. I think that’s a case of “done it all my life, never got sick yet.” It’s even been helpful at times; it once made me realize I’d forgotten to put sugar in the muffins.

    Even with how careful I try to be, if we had H5N1 in chicken in the U.S., I wouldn’t buy it. Because then even Lysoling the sink and the knobs on the faucet wouldn’t make me feel secure.

    I think the ACC is playing on that people’s concerns over things like H5N1 are at least as much emotional as they are rational, especially people who haven’t got a lot of information about it. And the more people are worried, the more they need to have some kind of ritual to feel like they’re in control. Even if that ritual is unnecessary, or ineffective.

  10. #10 M. Randolph Kruger
    January 29, 2007

    Yo Karen, another reason for the ozone type of disinfection is your clothes. You look at the soaps you are using now and they have chlorine neutralizers in them. Keeps those clothes from fading for 50 machine washings….. Only other problem is that it doesnt disinfect the clothes and its the reason they turn in the washer if you dont dry them quick enough. Bacteria still on them. Revere’s ozone system gig is a good deal and it just gasses off in the washer and it still disinfects them without fading.

    We have nearly pure water here in Memphis and no chlorine is added. When the great cataclysm hit it burned all of the trees and apparently laid down a charcoal layer over Miss. River sand on at least four different levels. Pretty much along the fossil record for the dieback of dinosaurs and then the big one hit. The ground water is basically charcoal filtered before we even touch it. Nice…..

  11. #11 Karen
    January 29, 2007

    Thanks for all the great information, everyone.

  12. #12 G in INdiana
    January 29, 2007

    My skin is way too sensitive for chlorine. I once made a huge mistake of bleaching our whites and wearing a white tee shirt to bed. Oh My God, the hives I got were astounding. It took days for them to go away. Benadryl was my best pal.

    I use a product from Citrus Magic. http://www.citrusmagic.com/
    It’s called Citrus II – Germicidal Deodorizing Cleaner and it kills every thing. I use it after cooking chicken. It is hospital strength and smells very nice. Heck all their stuff does!
    Here’s their write up:
    No-scrub, hospital strength, EPA registered product: eliminates odors caused by microorganisms in bathrooms, garbage cans, storage areas, food preparation areas, and basements. It is also ideal for home health care/sick-room care. Citrus II Germicidal is effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria and viruses, including tuberculosis, E.coli, HIV (AIDS Virus), Hepatitis B and C, and pneumonia. Unlike many germicidal cleaners, Citrus II also deodorizes with the power of citrus and is safe for use on virtually any household surface.

    I don’t work for these folks, just use their stuff all over my house as anything else is just plain nasty for my skin and nose.

  13. #13 Lea
    January 29, 2007

    Good information G in INdiana. I don’t remember what the stats are on what bleach does once flushed or sent down the drain but it’s not good either.
    I don’t work for the folks I mentioned either.
    caia: soft tofu can be used to replace eggs.
    MRK: You lucky soul. The 35% Food Grade stuff is why I asked you if you had a pool awhile back.
    Our water is so salty it’s a diabetics nightmare. (and no I’m not diabetic). We use a Katadyn to filter our drinking water and add colloidal silver to it when necessary.

  14. #14 caia
    January 29, 2007

    Lea soft tofu can replace eggs in scrambling, in baking? Milled flax seed and water is what I use when I want to try replacing eggs in baked goods. And I doubt tofu could replace beaten egg whites.

    Besides, soy causes sensitivites in some people, just as eggs do in others, and as I learned from another commenter here, there are serious concerns about GMO soy’s safety (90% of soy grown in the U.S. is GMO). And although you can easily get non-GMO/organic tofu, I’ve also read soy is a suspected thyroid suppressant, to be avoided by those with hypothyroidism. I eat soy products, but not all the time every day the way I used to. So I don’t think I’ll be giving up my eggs any time soon.

  15. #15 Ron
    January 29, 2007

    I remember seeing some data a few years ago during a seminar reviewing public health implications of Chlorine. Cl products are responsible for something like 90% of industrial chemical pollution (eg. dioxins are organochlorides). Half of that is from the paper industry. The economic and health arguments for banning almost all current uses of Cl products for already existing alternatives are strong. Yet this lobby group of the chemical industry has effectively blocked that alternative for decades. Eliminating this one source of pollution would be a large step forward in reducing some types of cancer and other degenerative diseases. Yet in our country, corporate profits are sacred.

  16. #16 K
    January 29, 2007

    I was recently surpised to find that a supposedly helpful chemical added to our water was considered by many doctors and scientists to be of no benefit and in cases harmful. I felt betrayed – and it wasn’t a communist plot but rather a way for an industry to get rid of its excess flourine. Took me weeks of investigation to be convinced that this wasn’t an old plot recycled – that in fact we have been lied to – to quote just one from just one web site “E.P.A. should act immediately to protect the public, not just on the cancer data, but on the evidence of bone fractures, arthritis, mutagenicity and other effects.” – Dr. William Marcus, Senior Toxicologist at E.P.A.

    Luckily we have a deep well now and I trust the earths’ own natural filtration.

  17. #17 revere
    January 29, 2007

    K: Fluoride is an ion and isn’t filtered out. How much fluoride you have depends on the minerals the groundwater is percolating through. Be aware that the problem of fluoride is very controversial. I happen to be more on your end of the spectrum, for reasons I suggested in one of my earliest posts here on the blog (at its original site on Blogger). Recently the National Research Council has done a comprehensive analysis of the hazards of fluoride, which I recommend. Top flight panel, taking a measured look. I know several of them and they are reliable and excellent scientists.

  18. #18 K
    January 30, 2007

    I realize this is controversial, but I am 58 and other than the ridiculed “communist plot” theory for all these years I had not heard a word from the other side. I had my drinking water fluorodated, used Crest, and had fluoride treatments as a kid and never heard a word that it might not help much and might cause harm until I read a post on another site. Living in a “progressive” town growing up I had no choice about the addition to my drinking water. BTW I wasn’t lucky enough to have found your site in 2004.

    Good point about the flourine ion – I haven’t heard that Alabama water has natural flourine – however our well driller says the veins he hits carry water from Canada – without testing no way to tell. But at least my water is not treated with whatever the locals use to treat public water. AND I am not drinking whatever they might miss from all the stuff Atlanta sends into the Chattahooche – usually treated but they have been fined more than once for untreated spills.

    The fact that you said this in you 2004 post “Warning to young public healthies: Don’t try this at home! This is a sure-fire career killer. Leave it to grizzled old geezers like me who have nothing to lose.” surely points to the fact that an honest public discussion is a dangerous thing on this issue – WHY would that be??? In public discourse it is important to pay attention to what no one will talk about as well as what they are talking about eh?

  19. #19 revere
    January 30, 2007

    K: “…surely points to the fact that an honest public discussion is a dangerous thing on this issue – WHY would that be??? In public discourse it is important to pay attention to what no one will talk about as well as what they are talking about eh?”

    Of course you are right. But it is a fact that the pushback is unbelievable. There is an ideological commitment to fluoride being beneficial and not harmful that is almost unfathomable. I am sort of agnostic on the main scientific issues but tend to be anti water fluoridation on general public health grounds. There are so many sources of fluoride in our diet that it isn’t necessary to fluoridate water anymore (if it was ever necessary; they don’t do it in northern Europe). Now I’ll probably hear from some dentist.

  20. #20 K
    January 30, 2007

    Revere – cui bono? Who needs to find a sink for the waste fluoride? Aluminum, Phosphate fertilizers, Uranium enrichment – nice to get paid for disposing of your waste eh?

  21. #21 revere
    January 30, 2007

    K: I don’t think it has that kind of simple answer. The ignorance about this in the public health community is monumental. It has been an article of faith for so long, a point needing defending against the anti-science forces of darkness. There is a lesson here but it hasn’t been learned. Not even recognized.

  22. #22 Hank Roberts
    December 5, 2008

    Ah, I was looking at your 2004 posting, didn’t find this one from the title but the search box turned it up.

    Curious if you have comments on using hydrogen peroxide, the website a commenter mentioned above is a bit spooky, and I know concerns about ingesting free radicals have convinced some medical people I know to avoid peroxide even in low mouthwash concentration products. How much do you inhale while washing a kitchen with the 35 percent product?

    “Ordinary flu” season looms, any current best advice welcome. My office is encouraging people by buying refills for the alcohol gel handwashing stuff (61 percent ethanol).

  23. #23 Lea
    December 6, 2008

    It would help revere out if you gave my name Hank. At least I am thinking you’re referring to what I posted.

    The website might be “spooky” to you but it’s not to me.
    They sell a product and interject their own style, BFD.
    It is, to my knowledge, one of the highest quality hydrogen peroxide’s out there. If you know of another place to get it then please share it. The suggestion of using this product came from an intelligent and knowledgeable individual, not some hack.

    And if revere had something to offer about hydrogen peroxide would we have not heard about it by now? I would like to think so ……. .

    I know concerns about ingesting free radicals have convinced some medical people I know to avoid peroxide even in low mouthwash concentration products.

    Respectfully, this tells me nothing, if you have something of value that would help out please elaborate. I don’t swallow the mouthwash BTW.

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