When life is on the line, Americans can turn to any of the nearly 6,500 hospitals in the United States for help. From life-saving drug therapies to the latest diagnostic equipment and surgical techniques, U.S. hospitals provide patients with a standard of medical care that is the envy of much of the world.

But there is another side to hospital care that most people rarely see or think about. That side has to do with hospitals' overwhelming reliance on chlorine.

From the computers used in admissions to the sutures used in surgeries, chlorine is a vital part of hospital operations and patient treatments. In fact, probably no other institution relies as much on chlorine as hospitals.

Chlorine and Life-Saving Drugs

Hospital pharmacies are full of medications that rely on chlorine chemistry. Today, about 85 percent of all pharmaceuticals contain or are made using chlorine, including medications that treat heart disease, hypertension, cancer, AIDS, arthritis, pneumonia, depression, diabetes, allergies, meningitis, glaucoma, osteoporosis and ulcers.

Acetaminophen, the most widely used pain reliever in hospitals, is made with chlorine.

So is vancomycin, the only antibiotic to which 40 percent of staph infections respond and the only one effective against hospital staph infections.

Cancer therapies also depend on chlorine, which is a vital component in such important drugs as cisplatin, used to treat testicular, ovarian and bladder cancers, and mitotane, used to treat inoperable adrenal cancer.

Chlorine and Medical Equipment

Chlorine is essential to a wide variety of hospital equipment. An estimated 25 percent of all medical devices in hospitals are made using chlorine, including some of the most widely used equipment:

  • IV and blood bags. Chlorine-based plastics are used to make the millions of blood and IV bags used by hospitals and blood banks each year. 
  • X-ray and mammography film. More than 20 million chest X-rays and 13 million mammograms were taken in 1992, according to the American Hospital Association. Chlorine played a role in each one, as a component in the silver chloride used in the film.
  • Sterile tubing and packaging. Chlorine-based plastics are also used to make these essential devices.

Premier Infection-Fighter

Chlorine compounds are used widely to maintain hospital cleanliness and prevent thousands of life-threatening infections. As a bleach and medicinal aid, chlorine compounds:

  • Prevent bacterial contamination of patients' burns and wounds
  • Disinfect kidney dialysis machines
  • Clean and disinfect work surfaces and equipment in medical laboratories
  • Kill deadly bacteria, such as Legionnaire's Disease, that can live in hospital water and air conditioning systems.

Chlorine in the Operating Room

Chlorine plays a number of critical roles in the operating room:

  • Anesthesia. Anesthetics, such as Anactine Flopak, are made with chlorine.
    General cleaning and disinfection. Infections are a significant threat in hospitals. Chlorine-based cleansers disinfect work surfaces and equipment.
  • Sutures and other surgical equipment. Chlorine helps make nylon, an essential material in surgical sutures, artificial blood vessels and osmotic membranes. And vinyl, a chlorine-based plastic, is used in heart catheters.
  • Prosthetics. Chlorine-based plastics are used to make thousands of prostheses that surgeons use to improve the lives of patients each year.
  • Electronic instruments. Computers and electronic devices play an increasingly important role in the operating room and hospital patient care, and chlorine provides one of the crucial building blocks in the manufacture of semiconductors used in these life-saving electronic instruments.
  • Organ transplants. Chlorine helps make transplants possible because it is used to produce polystyrene plastic for the coolers that preserve organs during transportation. Nearly 19,000 organ transplants occurred in 1994, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Daily Hospital Life

Providing patients with safe water and nourishing food is essential to speedy recoveries. Once again, chlorine plays a vital role by ensuring that hospitals have safe water for drinking, bathing and other patient needs. Hospital kitchens and cafeterias rely on chlorine's disinfectant powers to kill dangerous food-borne bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter on food preparation surfaces.

Bringing Miracles to Modern Medicine

Chlorine. From medicines to blood bags, X-ray films to surgical sutures, disinfectants to drinking water, no other element plays so many roles helping hospitals provide patients with the critical care that saves lives.


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