Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 58, Issue 5, pp 565–581 | Cite as

The natural chlorine cycle – fitting the scattered pieces

  •  G. Öberg


Chlorine is one of the most abundant elements on the surface of the earth. Until recently, it was widely believed that all chlorinated organic compounds were xenobiotic, that chlorine does not participate in biological processes and that it is present in the environment only as chloride. However, over the years, research has revealed that chlorine takes part in a complex biogeochemical cycle, that it is one of the major elements of soil organic matter and that the amount of naturally formed organic chlorine present in the environment can be counted in tons per km2. Interestingly enough, some of the pieces of the chlorine puzzle have actually been known for decades, but the information has been scattered among a number of different disciplines with little or no exchange of information. The lack of communication appears to be due to the fact that the points of departure in the various fields have not corresponded; a number of paradoxes are actually revealed when the known pieces of the chlorine puzzle are fit together. It appears as if a number of generally agreed statements or tacit understandings have guided perceptions, and that these have obstructed the understanding of the chlorine-cycle as a whole. The present review enlightens four paradoxes that spring up when some persistent tacit understandings are viewed in the light of recent work as well as earlier findings in other areas. The paradoxes illuminated in this paper are that it is generally agreed that: (1) chlorinated organic compounds are xenobiotic even though more than 1,000 naturally produced chlorinated compounds have been identified; (2) only a few, rather specialised, organisms are able to convert chloride to organic chlorine even though it appears as if the ability among organisms to transform chloride to organic chlorine is more the rule than the exception; (3) all chlorinated organic compounds are persistent and toxic even though the vast majority of naturally produced organic chlorine is neither persistent nor toxic; (4) chlorine is mainly found in its ionic form in the environment even though organic chlorine is as abundant or even more abundant than chloride in soil. Furthermore, the contours of the terrestrial chlorine cycle are outlined and put in a concrete form by constructing a rough chlorine budget over a small forested catchment. Finally, possible ecological roles of the turnover of chlorine are discussed.


Chloride Organic Matter Chlorine Organic Compound Biological Process 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  •  G. Öberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department Thematic Studies, Campus Norrköping, Linköpings Universitet, 60174 Norrköping, Sweden

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