What are Organochlorines?

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What are Organochlorines?

The last two decades have witnessed growing scientific concerns and public debate over the potential adverse effects that may result from exposure to a group of chemicals known as organochlorines. Concerns regarding exposure to these chemicals are primarily due to observed effects on wildlife, fish, ecosystems and humans.

Organochlorines are toxic substances that contain chemically combined chlorine and carbon. Around 11,000 organochlorines are produced and used commercially in products diverse as pesticides, plastics, solvents and refrigerants. As a result, these compounds are now spread throughout the global environment. The very properties that made organochlorines desirable to the chemical industry have led to widespread environmental problems.

These chlorinated hydrocarbons are classified into four main groups based on their chemical structure and the way in which they are produced.

Dichloro-diphenylethane derivatives e.g. DDT

Hexachloro-cyclohexane derivatives e.g. HCB

Cyclodiene derivatives e.g. Dieldrin

Mirex and Chlorodecone

Each of these organochlorines is a hydrophobic compound. This means that they do not dissolve in water, but will dissolve in some organic solvents, and also have the ability to enter cell membranes.

Examples such as DDT, HCB and Dieldrin are highly lipophilic compounds. This means that they are fat soluble and have the ability to accumulate in the lipid membranes of cells, and therefore have the potential to affect all cells.

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DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) first came into production in 1939 by Dr. Paul Muller. It was widely utilised as a means of controlling common pests such as flies mosquitoes and lice. The use of DDT is now banned in both the United States and Australia.

HCB (hexachlorobenzene) was also used as a form of pest control since the 1940’s. In Australia, it was primarily used as a fungicide for the protection of stored grain.

Dieldrin, a Cyclodiene derivative, is one of the most persistent pesticides known, is used in the control of termites. Dieldrin is also a very stable compound.


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