Bromine is a chemical element with a shiny metallic luster and a sweet, tangy odor that’s the source of the common term “bromide.” It was first synthesized in 1840 and named for a 19th century chemist who studied it thoroughly. Despite its rarity (it is the third most common element in the universe), bromine is incredibly important for life on Earth. While carbon, sulfur, and iodine play a crucial role in the formation of organic molecules such as DNA and proteins, which in turn sustain all life, the absence of bromine in the environment can cause major problems for creatures big and small.
Why Is Bromine So Important?
Bromine is essential for human life in a number of ways. For instance, proteins that contain bromine are required to maintain healthy teeth. In humans, low levels of bromine have been correlated with the development of type 2 diabetes, liver disorders, and epilepsy. Some animals, such as dogs and cats, are even more vulnerable to the effects of bromine deficiency than humans are; they are unable to manufacture it naturally within their bodies. The importance of bromine in human life makes it all the more crucial for marine life as well.
How Does Bromine Affect Fish, Wildlife, And Humans?
Most fish, wildlife, and humans are exposed to bromine in some way. Oceanographers hypothesize that the element was likely first introduced to Earth via volcanic activity, which then formed a layer of glass over shallow oceans that subsequently trapped much of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation—and thus, harmful bromine—in the atmosphere.
However, despite the element’s apparent prevalence in nature, research suggests that its capacity for harm may be great. Bromine is indeed highly toxic to fish, shellfish, and other marine life at even low concentrations. While no direct data on the subject exist, observations of marine animals with lesions or tumors suggest that bromine can, in some cases, cause serious harm to living things.
What Are Some Of The Rarest Known Deposits Of Bromine?
The most significant known deposits of bromine are found in three spots: (1) Mt. Weld in New Mexico, (2) the Okaukuejo lode in New Mexico, and (3) the Bizkaia Peninsula in Spain. The last two locations are the result of volcanic eruptions that laid down a thick layer of obsidian (basalt) that subsequently trapped the more-volatile bromine within. For over a century, scientists have been digging into these places and studying the element, which has made them a bit nervous.
Although these are some of the rarest known deposits of bromine, similar deposits are found throughout much of the world. One of the most significant such spots is the Mt. Hibbert clay pit in Canada, which is estimated to contain over a billion years’ worth of bromine. In a separate incident, a natural gas explosion in Italy in 2016 revealed that the country is sitting on a significant reserve of the element as well (the biggest in the European Union).
How Much Does Bromine Cost In 2017?
Bromine is a very rare element and therefore quite expensive. To put its rarity in perspective, it costs about $500 an ounce to buy, not including taxes. Furthermore, the price is expected to increase as the demand for the element soars—something that likely won’t make its proponents among the less wealthy happy.
Is There Any Benefit To Using Bromine In Swimming Pools?
There is no known benefit to using bromine in swimming pools. In fact, the element is often a byproduct of nuclear fission, and its decay products (bromides) are highly toxic and very mobile. For these reasons, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Purifiers (4A’s) does not recommend adding bromine to pool water. On the contrary, the organization advises adding a few drops of bromide to a bucket of water and then pouring it over the pool’s saltwater intake nozzle to protect the pool’s mechanical components from corrosion and malfunction.
However, if you are adding bromine to your pool for aesthetic purposes (e.g., to make it look more “pristine” or “natural”), then there is no harm in adding it. Nevertheless, it’s still important to keep a few safety precautions in mind.
The Main Risks Of Adding Bromine To Your Pool
The main risks of adding bromine to your pool are the same as with any other metallic element: corrosion, mechanical malfunction, and/or genetic mutation. Corrosion is the process whereby metal atoms are dissolved into the water and then redeposited on surfaces in the form of a thin, dull film. This film can become quite thick and can prevent water from properly mixing with air, causing potentially serious problems for both fish and wildlife that get tangled in it. The same goes for mechanical malfunction; although most pool pumps are highly reliable and will not break down, occasionally, they do.
In the case of genetic mutation, just a couple of drops of bromine in a bucket of water can alter the DNA structure of sperm and/or eggs. While this might not seem like a problem at first, the altered DNA could potentially lead to birth defects in future generations. In any case, the effects of bromine are far-reaching, and its toxicity is unconfirmed in humans. For all these reasons, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Purifiers (4A’s) does not recommend adding bromine to pool water.
Should You Be More Concerned About Sulfur In Your Pool?
While bromine is commonly associated with the chemical symbol “Br,” the true danger to humans lies in its decay product, sulfur. Just like bromine, sulfur is a naturally occurring element that is virtually impossible to avoid. However, in contrast to its counterpart, sulfur is highly toxic and readily soluble in water. This makes it considerably more dangerous than bromine. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies sulfur as a “critically hazardous substance,” placing it in the same category as lead, arsenic, and mercury.
The worst part is that unlike most other hazardous substances, there is no known safe level of exposure to sulfur. Even small amounts ingested by fish, wildlife, and humans can cause serious damage. Fortunately, there is no evidence that humans are vulnerable to the effects of sulfur, as the toxicity of the compound is too great for any living organism to overcome naturally. This makes it much more difficult to acquire compared to the other substances listed above.
What Happens If You Overuse Bromine In Your Pool?
If you happen to use a lot of bromine in your swimming pool and then subsequently remove some of it from the water, you will leave a residue that is practically inedible. This is why it’s essential to always use the proper amounts of chemical reagents when adding them to your pool. If you use too much bromine, the water will become undrinkable and you will have to find another way to quench your thirst. Of course, this will also affect the wildlife that frequents your pool—they might find the taste of water to be off-putting, as well.
Bromine is a necessary element in many ways. Unfortunately, just like any other such substance, it is not without its risks. If you’re curious about whether or not bromine is right for your pool, the safest course of action is to leave it out. After all, it’s not worth the trouble and the health consequences that it could bring.