Vinyl chloride, chloromethane and the banned pesticide DDT are examples of chlorinated hydrocarbons. Chlorinated hydrocarbons are organic molecules wherein chlorine has been substituted for some of the hydrogen molecules that were bonded to the carbon.
Chlorinated hydrocarbons have many industrial applications, including the manufacture of nonstick cookware, industrial solvents and pesticides. Some organochlorides are naturally occurring, although most useful chlorinated hydrocarbons are synthesized in a lab or chemical plant.
Biosynthesized organochlorides include alkaloids, terpenes, amino acids, fatty acids and steroids. Special organochlorides called dioxins are produced in the high-temperature reactions that occur in forest fires. These dioxins are toxic and mutagenic, having deleterious effects on the immune, nervous and reproductive systems of forest animals.
Vinyl chloride is an organochloride that can be polymerized to produce polyvinylchloride, abbreviated PVC. This polymer is used to produce piping and nonstick coatings. A specialized layer of a closely related cousin to PVC, called poly-tetrafluroethane, is patented as the nonstick coating Teflon.
Other chlorinated hydrocarbons are used as solvents, pesticides, coatings, precursors and synthetic rubber. Chlorinated hydrocarbons may pose a threat to human and environmental health. The complications that these products cause may not become evident for years or decades. An infamous example of the negative effects of chlorinated hydrocarbons is the pesticide DDT, which devastated bird populations by weakening the outer structure of eggs.