Chloroform Fact Sheet

Chloroform is a colorless liquid with a pleasant nonirritating odor and has a chemical formula of CHCl3. Other names for this chemical are trichloromethane and methyl trichloride. In the past, it was used as an inhaled anesthetic during surgery, but it isn’t used that way today. Today, the liquid is used to make other chemicals and can also be formed in small amounts when chlorine is added to water.

Date back to 1847, at that time chloroform was firstly used as an anesthetic. In 1848, a patient died because her heart went into fibrillation while she was chloroformed, and continued use of the drug only cemented the link between chloroform and cardiac events. By the early twentieth century, it had been abandoned in favor of safer and cheaper drugs, and today has been replaced by anesthetics such as halothane, isoflurane, and sevoflurane, among many others. When a less expensive anesthetic is required, as is the case in some impoverished nations, ether, an older anesthetic, is preferred over the substance.

Chloroform has uses in a number of manufacturing processes and in organic synthesis. It is used as a precursor in the manufacture of Teflon, the widely used non-stick material. The liquid is also used in the bonding of certain plastics.

If exposed to the vapours of Chloroform, an operator will become dizzy and light-headed. Exposure to concentrated vapours will cause an operator to become unconscious. Where ventilation is inadequate, a respirator should be worn. This must have an organic vapour cartridge and the manufacturer should be consulted regarding compatibility.

Chloroform can easily be carried in water, and when it is exposed to oxygen and sunlight, a chemical reaction forms phosgene, a toxic gas. If it is exposed outdoors, the phosgene will break down and ultimately become harmless, but in enclosed spaces, it can be highly dangerous: in addition to use in modern manufacturing processes, phosgene had a historical use as a deadly chemical weapon in both World War I. In groundwater, trichloromethane will build up and take a long time to break down, because it is not readily water-soluble. For this reason, most environmental agencies set safety levels for its content, so that water can be routinely evaluated to see whether or not it poses a threat to consumers.

When using or working with the chemical it is essential that appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Clothing) is used. Protective gloves should be worn when handling the material. Please check with the manufacturer for details of compatibility. Additionally, safety goggles and protective clothing should be worn.