Chlorine contaminationGroundbreaking Research on Chlorine Spread

Published 21 November 2020

Chlorine can kill in minutes if inhaled in high concentration. Since 2010, DHS S&T led a project, called Jack Rabbit, aiming to improve ways to detect and deal with chlorine spread. Recent events highlight the need for responders to be prepared with the best information possible for this type of hazard.

Imagine billowing clouds of deadly, yellow-green gas gushing with force from a tank, undulating, pulsating and spreading in waves over the ground, resembling surging foamy water. Imagine you are a resident in a nearby home—is it safe to remain where you are? Do you need to evacuate? Imagine you are a first responder called to the scene—what protective gear do you need? How can you secure the surrounding area?

That billowing cloud you are picturing is chlorine, the scent of which we all know from our community pools or laundry rooms. Did you know it can kill in minutes if inhaled in high concentration?

Since 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHSScience and Technology Directorate (S&T), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and other U.S. and international partners from across government, industry and academia have collaborated on Project Jack Rabbit—a groundbreaking field and laboratory research program on toxic inhalation hazards of  industrial chemicals like ammonia and chlorine. As part of this program, S&T led the Jack Rabbit II project, involving multiple large-scale chlorine release experiments at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in 2015 and 2016. Nine chlorine release trials were successfully performed, and now the research conducted for Jack Rabbit II is in such demand worldwide that it is featured in a special edition of the prestigious peer-reviewed Journal of Atmospheric Environment.

Why do we need such large-scale research on chlorine? Rarely encountered in pure form, chlorine is important as it is used in the production of multiple products we need in our everyday lives, such as cleaning and sanitizing solutions, plastic building materials (polyvinylchloride or PVC), and in some medicines. We also use it in those swimming pools we swim in and in the tap water we drink. Millions of tons of chlorine are produced and transported to industrial plants and factories via road, water and rail across the globe every year. And there lies the danger. En route, while travelling to these facilities, incidents can happen by accident or intentionally by bad actors, threatening civilian lives, especially in densely populated areas.