Chloroform: Its Uses and Effects on the Environment

Chloroform, also referred to as trichloromethane is an organic compound. Each molecule of trichloromethane consists of three chlorine atoms attached to one carbon atom. Organic compounds having two or more than two halogen atoms attached to it are generally called polyhalogenated compounds. The high reactivity of halogens makes the polyhalogenated organic compounds a very important class of chemicals.

Chloroform also belongs to this family of compounds. Although these compounds have been found to have adverse affects on environment and human body, industries continue to use these compounds owing to their high utility and wide range of applications.

Trichloromethane is used as a solvent for iodine, alkaloids, fats and some other substances. Chloroform is majorly used for the manufacturing of Freon refrigerant R-22.  The application of R-22 as refrigerants has been phased out in developed countries due to global warming, but it continues to be in high demand in developing countries owing to its easy availability and manufacturing.

It has been used as a prominent anaesthetic during medical surgeries ever since its effects were discovered. Even criminals use this compound to knock out their victims due to is anaesthetic effects. It has been reported that breathing air that has 900 ppm chloroform in it can cause dizziness, headache and fatigue. Once the toxic nature of this compound and its harmful effects on liver, kidneys and the central nervous system were discovered, its use as an anaesthetic had been replaced by other safer products.

The poisonous nature of this compound is attributed to phosgene. The oxidation of chloroform in the presence of light produces a highly poisonous gas, called phosgene. This is the reason for storing chloroform in air-tight dark coloured bottles filled completely so that it has no contact with air.

The developments in science have given us ample things to wonder about. These products have made our lives better and have improved our standard of living but some of the products of science and its discoveries have had adverse effects on human body and on environment. The uses and application of chloroform is now overshadowed by its harsh effects on environment and human body and hence the use of this compound has been significantly suppressed in most countries.