Created in the 1800’s

French Chemist and pharmacist, Antoine-Germain Labarraque, is credited with formulating a solution of sodium hypochlorite (commonly called bleach) widely used as a disinfectant and deodorizer. In 1824, he was called to the death bed of King Louis XVIII, who suffered from extensive gangrene. The body emitted a foul odor long before death, which the chemist was able to remove by covering the body with a sheet soaked in chlorinated water. Long before the germ theory of infection, his solutions of sodium and calcium hypochlorite were used to disinfect and deodorize latrines, sewers, slaughter houses and morgues.1 The first recorded use of chlorine bleach as a medical disinfectant was recorded at the Vienna (Austria) General Hospital when staff began using it to keep “childbed fever,” a severe infection that killed countless women after they gave birth, from spreading throughout the maternity ward.2 During World War I, a diluted solution was used for open wound irrigation and is still in use today as an effective treatment against multiple antibiotic resistant bacteria. It is also used to disinfect dialysis equipment, some surgical equipment, surfaces in hospitals and medical labs, and even some medical waste.

Explanation Discovered in 2008

The effectiveness of bleach as a broad spectrum disinfectant has been known for nearly 200 years. In 2008, Ursula Jakob led a research team that discovered why. It seems that hypochlorous acid, the active ingredient in bleach attacks proteins in bacteria, causing them to clump up much like a boiled egg. The researchers were studying a bacterial protein called heat shock protein 33. This protein becomes active when cells are in distress, similar to that of a high fever. When the researchers exposed the bacteria to bleach, the heat shock protein became active in an attempt to protect other proteins in the bacteria from losing their chemical structure. Many of these proteins are essential for bacterial growth. Inactivating them will likely kill the bacteria. Further, they discovered that in response to infection, the human immune system produces a strong oxidizer, hypochlorous acid, generated by white blood cells, which helps destroy bacteria. The same chemical hypochlorous acid, is in Bleach.3 In addition to disinfecting surfaces, bleach is often stored to be used to disinfect water in a disaster situation. The problem is that bleach degrades quickly. Clorox Bleach representatives recommend storage for about 6 months at temperatures between 50 and 70º F. After this time, it begins to degrade at the rate of 20% each year and could end up as salt water.4 Instead of storing  liquid bleach, store calcium hypochlorite in granular form. Pure calcium hypochlorite, is one of the best chemical disinfectants for water. It destroys yeast, other fungi,and viruses as well as bacteria. A 1-pound bag will treat up to 10,000 gallons of drinking water.5                  References

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_Germain_Labarraque
2.  http://home.howstuffworks.com/bleach2.htm
3.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/11/13/us-bleach-idUSTRE4AC68720081113
4. http://www.brainstuffshow.com/blog/does-chlorine-bleach-ever-expire-or-go-bad-important-in-emergency-situations/
5. http://survivaltopics.com/better-than-bleach-use-calcium-hypochlorite-to-disinfect-water/

Billie Nicholson, Editor
March 2015

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