Time to ban dihydrogen monoxide?

Updated: 21 July, 2020 07:56 IST | C Y Gopinath | Mumbai

Are you one of the growing numbers of concerned citizens who want to ban this deadly chemical? You should read this

Representation pic/Getty Images
Representation pic/Getty Images

C Y GopinathThe facts about dihydrogen monoxide have never been a secret. Scientists have studied it extensively for decades, and countless papers have listed its lethal properties. But it is only recently that the public has realised that they might be in the middle of another public health crisis nearly as bad, if not worse, than coronavirus. Because dihydrogen monoxide is not only ubiquitous but it has also permeated nearly everything we use, touch, wear, interact with and consume.

Dihydrogen monoxide, abbreviated to DHMO and also known as hydrogen hydroxide, is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It's one of the commonest industrial solvents you're exposed to every day. Anyone who drinks it eventually dies. It's the number one cause of fatality in drowning and yes, in gaseous form it's a leading greenhouse gas.

For a complete listing of all the terrifying properties and uses of DHMO, check https://www.dhmo.org/facts.html. But if you're impatient and want more damning evidence, here are some other undisputed and scientifically verifiable facts — DHMO is deliberately added to food in restaurants with full knowledge of food safety inspectors. It is a component of pesticide sprays, was used during torture in World War II concentration camps and is a key component of many chemical and biological weapons.

Inhaled as a gas, it causes severe, sometimes lethal burns and has been identified as the main cause of tens of thousands of deaths through accidental ingestion.

The presence of the chemical has been confirmed over and over again in every river, stream, lake and reservoir in India and the world. Millions of tonnes of DHMO are released daily from industrial plants along with other toxic chemicals with the full knowledge of the government and environment protection agencies, who have so far refused to treat it as a problem, claiming that "DHMO is economically important".

Well? Do you agree that DHMO should have been banned long ago? Are you now worried enough to sign a petition for global action to end DHMO poisoning in our lives and make the world a safer place?

What if I were to tell you that dihydrogen monoxide is a compound that contains two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, and is commonly written as H2O. That's right, DHMO is nothing but water by another name. All the properties listed above are true and correctly describe the effects of water. Yes, good ol' water.

So how come you fell for it? How gullible are we (because yes, I fell for it too)?

This venerable jape made the news in 1997 when it was presented as a high school project to test gullibility by Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, USA. After he made his case, 43 students favoured banning DHMO, six were undecided, and only one correctly recognised that Nathan was actually talking about plain water.

The most useful thing to come out of the revealing practical joke was the word Zohnerism, coined by journalist James K. Glassman in 1997 to refer to the selective use of accurate scientific information to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion. I bet that sounds more familiar.

A good example of Zohnerism is the irrational fear of using nuclear reactors for generating electricity because look at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Before you nod agreement — no one died in the Three Mile Island radiation leak or even got cancer later; Chernobyl's basic design was so negligent and free of safety features that no other reactor on the planet comes close; and in the Fukushima 'disaster', only six people were actually exposed to radiation, of whom one died.

A popular Zohnerism making the rounds is that coronavirus was created by a global health mafia that includes China, the USA, Russia, India, WHO, Bill Gates, Dr Anthony Fauci and many other luminaries. Their corrupt goal apparently is to forcibly create a surveillance state where individual lives and personal habits can be monitored under the guise of prevention a contagion.

How to avoid getting Zohnered? I found this handy list online —

1. Say "I don't know" when you don't know.

2. Google everything when you're not 100% sure of the meaning or the facts. And because Google isn't always right, Google the opposite point of view as well.

3. Learn about your own biases so that you don't fool yourself.

4. When someone argues for one side of a conflict, research both sides, whether it's a factoid, the news or a political issue.

Tune in again next week for my campaign to ban another lethal chemical — 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione — that is ruining millions of lives by making it impossible to sleep.

You might know it better as caffeine, the chief ingredient of coffee.

Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com
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First Published: 21 July, 2020 06:09 IST

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