The halogens are a chemical series. They are the elements in Group 17 (old-style: VII or VIIA) of the periodic table: fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine. The word comes from Greek roots meaning "salt" and "creator".
These elements are diatomic molecules in their natural form. They require one more electron to fill their outer electron shells, and so have a tendency to form a singly-charged negative ion. This negative ion is referred to as a halide ion; salts containing these ions are known as halides.
Halogens are highly reactive, and as such can be harmful or lethal to biological organisms in sufficient quantities. Chlorine and iodine are both used as disinfectants for such things as drinking water, swimming pools, fresh wounds, dishes, and surfaces. They kill bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms, a process known as sterilization. Their reactive properties are also put to use in bleaching. Chlorine is the active ingredient of most fabric bleaches and is used in the production of most paper products.
Halide ions combined with single hydrogen atoms form the hydrohalic acids (i.e., HF, HCl, HBr, HI), a series of particularly strong acids. (HAt, or "hydrastatic acid", should also qualify, but it is not typically included in discussions of hydrohalic acid due to astatine's extreme instability toward alpha decay.)
They react with each other to form interhalogen compounds. Amusingly, diatomic interhalogen compounds (BrF, ICl, ClF, etc.) bear strong superficial resemblance to the pure halogens.
Many synthetic organic compounds such as plastic polymers, and a few natural ones, contain halogen atoms; these are known as halogenated compounds. Chlorine is by far the most abundant of the halogens, and the only one needed in relatively large amounts (as chloride ions) by humans. For example, chloride ions play a key role in brain function by mediating the action of the inhibitory transmitter GABA and are also used by the body to produce stomach acid. Iodine is needed in trace amounts for the production of thyroid hormones such as thyroxine. On the other hand, neither fluorine nor bromine are believed to be really essential for humans, although small amounts of fluoride does make teeth enamel somewhat more resistant to attack.
They show a number of trends when moving down the group - for instance, decreasing electronegativity and reactivity, increasing melting and boiling point.
Last updated: 10-20-2005 09:47:05