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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Big names shouldn’t lead to big fear

Dihydrogen monoxide, much like guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, sounds like a chemical nightmare. Don’t worry, it might sound toxic but it’s completely safe. ERIC SCHMID/THE STATESMAN

There have been lots of complaints about campus dining. The lines are too long, the portions are too small and there isn’t enough selection. But while all the students gripe about convenience, a bigger, health-related issue lurks unseen.

Almost all of the food on campus contains dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical that can rust through iron piping and is heavy enough to be used as a radiation shield in nuclear reactors.

Dihydrogen monoxide is known to dissolve more substances than any other chemical. When thermally agitated, it can burn skin. Athletes have used dihydrogen monoxide to enhance performance.

Worst of all, accidental inhalation of even a small quantity of dihydrogen monoxide can lead to asphyxiation
and death.

Yet dihydrogen monoxide chemicals can be found in every single drink sold on campus. Every fruit and vegetable on campus contains around ninety percent dihydrogen monoxide. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, cooked ground beef usually contains between fifty-five and sixty percent of dihydrogen monoxide. Think about that next time you eat a burger.

Even though dihydrogen monoxide has been shown to cause cellular swelling, stomach irritation and excessive urination, the Center for Disease Control has yet to classify it as a toxic or carcinogenic substance.

Because it is water.

Dihydrogen monoxide is water. And water is a chemical.

While it is easy to be wary of titles like dihydrogen monoxide, it does not actually warrent fear. And it, like many other intiminating chemical names, is completly safe. To argue that “messing with nature” is inherently bad and that chemicals are inherently unsafe is laughable.

You can write the same way about table salt, or sodium chloride. When concentrated in the body, sodium can induce feelings of thirst, weakness, nausea and even bleeding in or around the brain. Chlorine gas was used as chemical warfare by the German military in World War I.

To make table salt sound addictive, I could write about how it was traded pound for pound with gold in the Trans-Saharan trade and during the era of the Phoenicians.

People write the same way about having guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride in their shampoo, eating non-organic fruit and raising Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Fun fact: guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride is chemically organic, derived from cluster beans and scored very well on health safety and environmental safety tests.

Literally since humanity’s inception, we have been affecting our surroundings to our own advantages. Almost all animals and even some plants do it.

Dogs are genetically modified wolves. Farmers would crossbreed and selectively breed crops that were bigger
and hardier.

As history unfolded and we as a species depended more on science, we have developed more and more ingenious ways to engineer our environments.

There are potatoes that are immune to the Irish potato famine virus. There is wheat that can be grown in spaceships.

Part of that process includes scientists extracting and developing medications from plants, animals and viruses. Chemicals are the flavors and the nutrients (and really the everything) of food.

These feats come out of fantasy novels. And so do these fears. We hear or read about some seven syllable chemicals  and shudder, wondering about its toxicity, while those charged with testing these products declare them to be healthy. Not just safe, but also beneficial.

As with everything human, there are some issues with testing. There are mistakes, sometimes catastrophic, but these cases are extreme outliers. That’s also why we need peer-review and replicated studies.

Ponder that next time you’re on line for your food. You’ll have enough time.

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