Reported on the news tonight was a “toxic chlorine gas” scare at the Burswood resort. It apparently was caused by construction workers “mixing chemicals” and making a toxic gas cloud.
What might it have been?
Well, if we know it was “chlorine” there are two options. Firstly, any acid mixed with bleach will produce chlorine gas. Secondly, ammonia mixed with bleach will produce chloramines.
The two have a similar smell, with chloramines being the smell we associate with pools – the smell at a freshwater pool is actually due to the chloramines made by the reaction of chlorine bleach (hypochlorite) with amines (urine, skin residue etc) in pools.
How toxic are they?
Well, they belong to a class of chemical where their bark is worse than their bite. In other words, the intense smell scares you away before the concentration ever gets high enough to affect your health.
But the people at Burswood didn’t know this, and may have associated the intense smell with an affect on their health, and thus psychosomatic symptoms appear. This is almost certainly the case with the five people that were hospitalised for observation.
It reminds me of an incident at Tullamarine airport a couple of years ago when reports spread of a toxic gas leak in the terminal. Panic spread and several people collapsed and were taken to hospital. When the emergency services arrived however, they found absolutely nothing.
So there you have it – if you blast your shower with bleach to kill the mould, and come out spluttering and coughing, don’t be alarmed – it’s not hurting you.