Claim:   A junior high school student won a science fair by circulating a report about the dangers of 'dihydrogen monoxide.'

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]


Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.

Dihydrogen monoxide:

  • is also known as hydroxl acid, and is the major component of acid rain.
  • contributes to the "greenhouse effect."
  • may cause severe burns.
  • contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.

Contamination is reaching epidemic proportions!

Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America today. But the pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice. DHMO has caused millions of dollars of property damage in the midwest, and recently California.

Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:

  • as an industrial solvent and coolant.
  • in nuclear power plants.
  • in the production of styrofoam.
  • as a fire retardant.
  • in many forms of cruel animal research.
  • in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
  • as an additive in certain "junk-foods" and other food products.

    Companies dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still legal. The impact on wildlife is extreme, and we cannot afford to ignore it any longer!

    The American government has refused to ban the production, distribution, or use of this damaging chemical due to its "importance to the economic health of this nation." In fact, the navy and other military organizations are conducting experiments with DHMO, and designing multi-billion dollar devices to control and utilize it during warfare situations. Hundreds of military research facilities receive tons of it through a highly sophisticated underground distribution network. Many store large quantities for later use.

  • Origins:   In 1997, Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, based his science fair project on a report similar to the one reproduced above. Zohner's project, titled "How Gullible Are We?", involved presenting this report about "the dangers of dihyrogen monoxide" to fifty ninth-grade students and asking them what (if anything) should be done about chemical. Forty-three students favored banning it, six were undecided, and only one correctly recognized that 'dihydrogen monoxide' is actually H2O -- plain old water. Zohner's analysis of the results he obtained won him first prize in the Greater Idaho Falls Science Far; garnered him scads of attention from newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, universities, and congresspeople; and prompted the usual round of outcries about how our ignorant citizenry doesn't read critically and can be easily misled. In other words, a tempest in a teapot.

    Zohner's project wasn't original: spoof petitions about dihydrogen monoxide and other innocuous "dangers" have been circulating for years, and Zohner based his project on a bogus report that was already making the rounds of the Internet. Moreover, Zohner's target audience was ninth-graders, a group highly susceptible to allowing peer pressure to overwhelm critical thinking. Thrust any piece of paper at the average high school student with a suggestion about what the "correct" response to it should be, and peer pressure pretty much assures you'll get the answer you're looking for. Someone that age isn't very likely to read a friend's petition calling for the banning of whale hunting and critically evaluate the socio-economic and environmental impact of such a regulation. Instead, he's probably going to say to himself, "This issue is obviously important to my friend, and he must have some good reasons for circulating the petition, so I'll sign it."

    That said, this example does aptly demonstrate the kind of fallacious reasoning that's thrust at us every day under the guise of "important information": how with a little effort, even the most innocuous of substances can be made to sound like a dangerous threat to human life. The next time you receive an ominous message such as the one warning you that sodium lauryl sulfate (a common foaming ingredient used in shampoos) causes cancer, with the "proof" being that this caustic chemical is also used to scrub garage floors, keep in mind that the very same thing could be said of another ubiquitous cleaning agent . . . dihydrogen monoxide.

    Last updated:   22 June 1999

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    Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2001
    by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson
    This material may not be reproduced without permission

        Glassman, James K.   "Dihydrogen Monoxide: A Killer."
        The Denver Post.   22 October 1997   (p. B7).

        Ridley, Matt.   "Acid Test: Dihydrogen Monoxide: Now There's a Real Killer."
        The Daily Telegraph.   15 September 1997   (p. 20).

        Roddy, Dennis B.   "Internet-Inspired Prank Lands 4 Teens in Hot Water."
        Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   19 April 1997   (p. A1).

        Associated Press.   "Sophomore's Project Makes People Think."
        St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   2 November 1997   (p. E4).
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