The Dihydrogen Monoxide Safety Hoax

DHMO Demystified

A viral message circulating since 1990 warns of serious health hazards associated with the chemical substance dihydrogen monoxide, also known as DHMO. This is a viral joke as "DHMO" is a synonym for "H2O" — the scientific name for water.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Demystified

Replace every instance of "DHMO" and "dihydrogen monoxide" with the word "water" in the message above and you'll get the joke.It's a parody of overblown health alerts that we find circulating  the Internet every day. These warnings that spread needless fear by taking advantage of scientific ignorance and consumer gullibility. Taken as an exercise in critical thinking, it's actually quite instructive. By presenting a series of essentially true statements in a grossly misleading way, even something as harmless as water can be made to sound like a dire threat to human health and environmental safety.

The text itself dates back to 1988, two years before it was first posted on the Internet by one of its authors, a U.C. Santa Cruz student named Eric Lechner. Lechner and his cohorts subsequently created a tongue-in-cheek Coalition to Ban DHMO. Thankfully, the Coalition's efforts were somewhat less than successful.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Sample Email

Here's sample text from a forwarded email contributed by S. Keeton on Apr. 16, 2001:

Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless and kills 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  electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.
Dihydrogen monoxide:
· 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. 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 in California.
Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:
· As an industrial solvent and coolant.
· In nuclear power plants.
· In in the production of styrofoam.
· As as a fire retardant.
· In in many forms of cruel animal research.
· In in the distribution of pesticides.
· As as an additive in certain junk foods and other food products.
Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.
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.

 Further reading:

Coalition to Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide
Home page of this lost cause

Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
More tongue-in-cheek information on health and environmental concerns related to DHMO

Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer

California City Falls for Web Hoax on Water
Associated Press, March 15, 2004

Olathe Official Calls Radio Station Prank "a Terrorist Attack"
Associated Press, April 3, 2002