It is very difficult to believe that the biggest cause of water pollution that leads to damaging the environment by increasing the temperatures of the oceans is in our homes and is very useful to us: It is soap and more specifically detergent soap.

What is a detergent?

Detergent is a surfactant, and it was supposed to be a revolutionary development. It is like soap but with other chemicals for better cleaning and retention of original colors. Detergents contain a hydrophilic substance (dissolves in water) and a hydrophobic (attaches to other substances but doesn’t dissolve in water). That is why when you mix soap with water, it gives a lubricating feeling. When you clean fabrics or utensils or anything, the hydrophilic molecules dissolve in water and the hydrophobic molecules attach themselves to other substances. When mechanically agitated or rinsed, the hydrophilic molecules pull the dirt along with the water. The cleaning action is terrific. Every one of us is happy for the excellent cleaning effect.

Then where is the problem?

Now when you rinse the fabric or the utensil after cleaning it thoroughly, the water goes into the drain, from there into the main sewage system and ultimately into the sea. Now the sewage water is not simple H2O anymore with freely floating particles! It is detergent water which contains both the hydrophobic and hydrophilic particles along with the dirt particles they removed from the fabric or the utensil or whatever.

In the olden days, the dirt particles used to precipitate to the bottom whenever they reached still waters because the water did not dissolve the oily substances. Now with detergent, the dirt floats and is retained in the water. This action would lead to an increase in the viscosity and the density of the water. This results are the lowering of the temperature at which the water turns into ice. The freezing temperature is no more zero degrees Celsius! Similarly the water does not vaporize at the usual temperature. It needs more heat and temperature to be vaporized.

All in all the temperatures of the seas rise!

Soapy Water, Wallington Woods (Photo: Skida)If you mix dirt in water and keep it still for some time, the dirt precipitates to the bottom. Mix similar dirt with detergent water and keep it still for some time – check the difference. The dirt in the pure water precipitates, and the dirt in detergent does not precipitate.

That fact is the reason why all our rivers, canals and lakes have all become polluted as never before, as we are using detergents and soaps as never before. Before 1960, the usage of soap was popular in Europe and the North Americas as well as the affluent sections of Asia and Africa. That is, about a billion out of three billion were using soaps. Now, soap is used everywhere on earth. That is 7 billion people using soap and detergents at an ever increasing rate, thanks to the saturation advertising depicting beautiful females smiling nicely presumably because of using detergent.

We are pumping more and more detergent and soap into our drainage systems and ultimately into the oceans. As the temperatures rise aided by the skyrocketing production of carbon dioxide from the ever increasing automobiles, the climate is changing beyond recognition.

We were drinking water straight from rivers, canals, lakes and taps before 1960. Now even developed countries like the USA, the practice shifted to drinking only bottled water. In 1970, when somebody suggested selling bottled water, people laughed. Now it is a reality. If water is totally polluted, the life will simply disappear from earth.

What is the way forward?

One way is to improve detergents so that they breakdown all by themselves after a certain amount of time lapse so that the water releases the dirt particles. That is the best solution. Now people are talking about “green cleaning.” Unfortunately, the scientific community which takes an oath on pursuing the “truth” does not talk about the issues or fight among themselves obscuring the issue. I do not wish to talk about governments, as they are filled with bureaucrats whose eye is on career advancement and politicians whose eye is firmly set on winning the next election or the organizations who talk of “societal marketing” to develop new cleaning chemicals that do not hang on to water and dirt eternally. The least acceptable alternative is to go back to the 1950s.

Murali Chemuturi is a renowned software designer who lives in Hyderabad, India. Mr. Chemuturi  speaks English, Hindi and Telugu, and has written several books on the subject of software development management. Murali’s essays on Freethought Nation are popular, ranking no. 1 on Google in both America and India for Hinduism-related search terms. Murali brings a refreshing and upbeat view to Freethought Nation.