Junkfood Science: What is a chemical? — The DHMO story

June 01, 2007

What is a chemical? — The DHMO story

All of us care about what we eat and what we feed our children. We want our food to be wholesome and nourishing — which for many means pure, natural, and free from chemicals.

Understandably, what we fear most is getting cancer from the unseen dangers lurking around us. Cancer is frightening and so are chemicals. But chemicals seem to be everywhere in our food supply and environment.

One chemical found in almost everything we eat is more dangerous than all the other chemicals combined, yet goes completely unregulated!

· It’s the second leading killer of infants and children in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

· For every child it kills, four are hospitalized, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics

· It is so deadly, it kills in a matter of seconds and the innocent victims rarely can even make a sound before they die, cites the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

· In its dry form, a mere two-second exposure causes massive burns to the skin, that progress painfully inward, cautions the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, Administered by The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

· It has been found in the tumors of terminal cancer patients and in all the tissues of those with seizure disorders and mental retardation.

Clearly, this chemical is a proven danger. Dihydrogen monoxide even sounds unnatural and is certainly not anything we want to expose ourselves or our children to. Right?

You’ve probably guessed by now that this chemical is water. Pure, natural water. H2O.

This illustrates, though, how natural it is for all of us to react emotionally to things that sound menacing. And the truth is, it’s easy to make any chemical, and most anything, sound dangerous.

You may have heard about city officials in Aliso Viejo, CA, a few years ago who proposed legislation to ban foam cups because they were manufactured using a substance known as dihydrogen monoxide. Their mistake became a source of national amusement and endless parodies now fill the internet. They’d been taken in by a terrific website: DHMO.org.

Its creator is a computer science professor at Villanova University, Dr. Thomas Way, Ph.D., who created it in 1997 to help improve scientific literacy and encourage people to think more critically about what they hear, and especially what they find on the internet. The site offers translations in 14 languages, looks credible, and is a blast. Reading it is a great exercise in critical thinking and fun for the whole family. Don’t miss the Facts page with other known perils of DHMO; evil groups opposing a ban on DHMO and claiming it’s actually beneficial, environmentally safe, benign and natural; how it can improve your sex life to athletic performance, the industrial and governmental uses of this dangerous substance (sounding much like those surrounding corn today); and what you can do to minimize risks.

While this website is fun, it reminds us that chemicals are everywhere. Nature is chemicals. We breathe oxygen, a chemical. We drink dihydrogen monoxide (water), a chemical. Our own bodies and every other living organism is made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a chemical.

A scary chemical name doesn’t make it a scary chemical. Chemicals do not equal poison.

Everything can be a poison at extreme large volumes and types of exposures, but that doesn’t make it the least bit dangerous otherwise.

And DHMO also reminds us to not believe everything we hear. It’s never been more important to be a critical thinker and go to credible expert sources to get the facts and learn what we’re not being told.

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