Wood pulp is usually bleached to increase its brightness. In some cases, however, pulps are bleached to improve other properties, such as the ability to absorb water--an important property for tissue and paper towels.
Until the early 1990s, most pulp was bleached with chlorine. Since then, most mills have stopped using gaseous (also called elemental) chlorine for bleaching. The newer bleaching processes, known as elemental chlorine free (ECF) processes (or process chlorine free, PCF, if they are used on recovered fiber), produce far fewer chlorine-containing chemicals and have virtually eliminated a number of chlorinated chemicals of concern, including dioxin.
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Elemental chlorine free (ECF) bleaching produces far fewer chlorine-containing chemicals than earlier processes.
In North America, ECF production now represents 99% of bleached chemical pulp production.*
Dioxin and furans from bleached chemical pulp mills have been reduced to non-measurable levels through the elimination of chlorine as a bleaching chemical.**
* Trends in world bleached chemical pulp production: 1990-2010. (AET 2012)
** Management of Toxic Substances - Forest Products Industry (Environment Canada).