MadSci Network: Environment & Ecology

Re: Is chlorine highly reactive with any other element or chemical, and if so

Date: Tue Feb 22 16:57:18 2000
Posted By: John Christie, Faculty, School of Chemistry, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
Area of science: Environment & Ecology
ID: 948875661.En

There is a big difficulty with this question. It has to do with the way that 
chemists use their terms. Chlorine means two quite different things!

In the first case "chlorine" means a very poisonous greenish yellow gas, 
Cl2. Chlorine gas is one of the more reactive substances that chemists come 
across. It reacts directly with about 80 out of 90 other simple substances 
(elements), and with a good proportion of known compounds as well.

But the second and more important meaning that chemists attach to the word 
chlorine is that of chlorine as an element -- a particular type of atom. Now 
in any type of chemical reaction, atoms are conserved. You cannot get rid of 
a chlorine atom in a reaction. All you can do is to arrange for it to be 
bonded in a more reactive or a less reactive compound.

The particular CFC compounds that are responsible for the thinning of the 
ozone layer and the Antarctic ozone hole are things like 
dichlorodifluoromethane, CF2Cl2. These chlorine-containing compounds simply 
do not react with *ANYTHING*, and certainly not with anything in the natural 

There have been several proposals for possible ways to "scrub" chlorine 
compounds out of the atmosphere, including a few from leading atmospheric 
scientists. All have so far proved, on deeper examination, to be 

Because of the scale that would be required for any such solution, even if 
it were found, there would be a very large danger of the "solution" 
producing its own adverse and unforeseen environmental effects. The 
atmosphere is a very delicate environment.

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