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The chemistry of disaster relief

The Louisiana flood waters have receded and so has the national media coverage of this disaster. The storm pummeled South Louisiana with almost seven trillion gallons of water in a week’s time. It flowed from parish to parish; the storm destroyed homes and businesses, and claimed lives. The TV cameras are gone, but the cleanup is only just beginning.

Flooding not only destroys homes and businesses, but it can also become a serious health hazard due to the pathogens entrained in those waters. A common household disinfectant, chlorine bleach, can be used to disinfect items that contacted precarious floodwater. Bleach can go a long way toward helping keep people healthy, especially during a cleanup.

Olin Corporation responded to Louisiana in its time of need by donating five truckloads of chlorine bleach, which were bottled into more than 20,000 1-gallon containers. This represents the second significant donation of bleach that Olin has made, following a donation of 50,000 gallons of bleach two years ago to help stem the horrific Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Olin didn’t do it alone. Catholic Charities Baton Rouge and the Salvation Army helped distribute the bleach to three separate locations in Baton Rouge. Champion Packaging in Chicago donated all labor, packaging and freight to Louisiana.

The flood waters were the enemy, as they must always be assumed to be contaminated and not safe to drink. But water can be a life-saver during a disaster when it is disinfected. This historic flood in Louisiana serves as an acute reminder we all need to be prepared in the event of a disaster.

September is National Preparedness Month, and a new infographic—The Power of Preparedness—from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that over 60 percent of Americans do not have an emergency plan that they have discussed with their household. As part of that plan, it’s important to think about water. Access to safe drinking water is something we all take for granted, but it’s not something we can rely on in an emergency. Water is one of the “non-negotiables” of our daily survival. According to, each person in a household requires one gallon of safe water per day for drinking and sanitation. How does one prepare emergency water? The website includes directions for sanitizing plastic soda bottles with a very dilute solution of chlorine bleach. Treated tap water can then be stored in those sanitized bottles for up to six months.

Chlorine bleach represents the chemistry of disaster relief, whether that chemistry is applied to a flood cleanup in Louisiana, an Ebola epidemic in Africa, or simply helping to ensure that your family has an emergency store of safe water in your basement.

As Louisiana continues the cleanup and works to rebuild its communities, we’re reminded that chemistry can play a constructive role in disaster relief and preparation.

How to Keep Drinking Water Safe in an Emergency:

Learn more about the safety benefits of chlorine here.

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