Untrue Facts

Untrue facts (aka urban myths), are popular misconceptions about chemicals which I deconstruct.

Nov 232011

Bottled water is purer and so healthier

In fact drinking bottled water in a western country is bad for your wealth, and bad for the planet. Nor is it good for your health as often claimed. By all means carry a bottle of water around with you, but fill it up every day from your kitchen tap. And when you are in a restaurant ask for a jug of water. Don’t be fooled into buying water, because this might simply come in a bottle that has been refilled from a tap.

Bottled water is bad for the environment because it wastes a lot of energy spent collecting, bottling, and transporting it, often from sources that are ridiculously far from where it is sold, such as from melting glaciers or remote islands in the Pacific. Some bottled water is transported more than ten thousand miles before it is drunk.

You need only drink bottled water when you suspect that the only water available has not been through the kind of treatment that we take for granted. The most important part of water treatment, after filtration, is to make sure it is free of pathogens such as the water-borne diseases cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and meningitis. These are all killed when the water is treated with sodium hypochlorite solution, often incorrectly called ‘chlorine bleach’ by those who are opposed to it.

Even when you find the water has enough residual hypochlorite to be detectable, this simply means that the water company has tested the water for microbes, found the levels are higher than normal, and so has had to use more hypochlorite to ensure it is safe for you to drink.

Rather than spend money on bottled water, why not spend it on fresh fruit instead. Now that really would be a healthier thing to do.

Nov 092011

Organic farming is the only sustainable way to grow food.

This is clearly true in a world of small villages when all the food that is grown is eaten locally and both animal and human manure is returned to the soil along with the compost of decayed plants. However, in a world of towns and cities so many nutrients are lost to the land and must be replaced from some other source.

Organic farming uses manure as a fertiliser but of course this comes from animals who have been fed on grass or crops grown on other land which in turn eventually its nutrient chemicals need replacing. Organic farming which needs a third more land to produce the same amount of food is not an option in a world with 7 billion people, most living in cities.

Organic farmers claim that they don’t use chemical pesticides but that is not true. They use first generation chemical pesticides that were the only ones available in the 1800s and they need to use much more of these than the third generation targeted pesticides which conventional farmers now have at their disposal. Some first generation pesticides are now banned because they pose a threat to humans.

The claim that organic food is healthier food is without foundation says the UK’s Food Standards Agency, and they should know.

Oct 262011

Enzymes in biological detergents cause eczema

Almost a quarter of the laundry detergents sold in the UK are of the ‘non-bio’ type meaning non-biological, in other words they contain no enzymes. The normal type of detergent contains these agents because they are good at digesting biologically-based stains on fabrics such as food stains and the stains we don’t talk about. However, it is only in the British Isles that ‘non-bio’ detergents are sold and this is as a result of a scare story of 30 years ago.

Back in the early 1980s, Unilever launched a new type of detergent called Persil New System which contained enzymes. Not all welcomed this advance in cleaning technology, and some claimed it caused them to break out in rashes and even develop eczema. Sadly, BBC TV gave them air time and this of course resulted in many more people discovering that they too appeared to be affected.

However, there never was any real scientific evidence to support these claims – and there never has been. (Those who were truly affected by detergents were found to be sensitive to the fragrance molecules that were included in detergents in those days, and not only in Persil. Even these are no longer used.)

Nevertheless, the belief that enzymes cause some people to be adversely affected has persisted to the present day, such can be the powerful and long-lasting effect of a media scare story. Nowhere else in the world are ‘non bio’ detergents sold, although of course there is just the possibility that British people really do have more delicate skin.

Aug 282011

Fact: We could run cars on water, but the oil companies keep it a secret

Untrue. Of itself, water has no energy left to give, so the idea of putting water in the fuel tank of a car, along with some magic ingredient which oil companies know about, is merely an urban myth.

However, as a source of hydrogen gas, water has the potential to be a fuel of the future. Hydrogen is produced when steam reacts with biomass, or when electricity is passed through water, or even when sunlight falls on water containing the right catalyst, but in this last case only in tiny amounts.

Hydrogen gas generated from water can be used as a fuel for transport and vehicles have been produced which run on it.