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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Childhood Asthma: Could Bleach and Tap Water Make Your Child Sick?

The increase in asthma cases illustrates the relationship between the sensitivity of small children and the increased use of petrochemical and other toxic household products. Asthma is an all too common problem in children. EPA reports that since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under five. Understanding the causes of asthma illustrates the direct relationship between indoor air quality and health.

Chlorine has been linked to childhood and adult asthma. Chlorine, when combined with organic substances such as skin particles, hair follicles, water-borne bacteria, and even sweat and urine, forms a dangerous family of compounds known as Trihalomethanes (THMs). Prolonged inhalation of levels of THMs and such chlorine gases as those found near an indoor swimming pool, will not only cause asthma, but will irritate the sensitive areas in the eyes, nose, and throat, as well. Amazingly, the chemicals found near indoor pools constitute only about 1/4 of the chemical vapors that result from showering in chlorinated water.

Municipal water, chlorine bleach, and chemical whitening agents can all increase the risk of developing asthma because of the THM compounds. Two recent European studies deeply scrutinized these substances in order to determine their negative health effects. Researchers found that nitrogen trichloride, one of the many known THMs, was a main culprit in many forms of occupational asthma. Fortunately, once the study participants were removed from exposure to the harmful chemical, their asthma symptoms showed dramatic improvements over a relatively short period of time. Many of the participants were even relieved of the burden of steroid inhalers. These studies have now proven that these harmful chemicals may actually cause asthma in previously healthy individuals.

Chlorine has long been known as a dangerous chemical, yet we use it in our water supply and homes every day. It is commonly used as a bleaching agent in household bleach such as Clorox. Though it will get whites whiter, this chemical is extremely irritating to the lungs, skin, and mucus membranes. It was used as a powerful poison in World War I. Chlorine is the household chemical most frequently involved in household poisonings. Chlorine also ranks first in causing industrial injuries and deaths resulting from large industrial accidents. The residues left behind, known as organochlorides, have been linked to many cancers including breast cancer.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.