Thursday, December 18, 2014

The weirdest crap you've never heard of before. Chlor-Alkali

Chlor-Alkali is more of a common name for a group of products that are used for industrial purposes rather than what you might use at home. Well, other than bleach and drain cleaner, both of which are examples. Industry uses lots of those things and the process for making them goes all the way back to 1895 with two guys Hamilton Castner and Karl Kelliner getting together and perfecting the process first patented by Charles Watt way back in 1851 for electrolyzing brine to make Hydrogen gas, Chlorine gas, Hydrocloric Acid and Sodium Hydroxide. Those two came up with a process they called the Mercury Cell and it worked fairly well and was very economical to operate. And the process is still used today to manufacture these important industrial chemicals. If you took chemistry in high school you probably remember electrolyzing water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. You passed an electrical current through salt water and at the anode you collected gas bubbles into a test tube then lit it on fire when it was partially full and you removed it from the water, hopefully without getting a shock. Fun, and it demonstrated a well known principle of science that is used everyday in the industrial world. Electrolysis.

It would take a lot of space to detail how the Mercury Cell works and most people reading this wouldn't care, but for those interested, Wikipedia has a cool description (Wiki ) It's interesting to note that in America today the Mercury Cell is used to manufacture a little over 10 million tons of Sodium Hydroxide and Hydrochloric Acid annually for industrial uses. (US EPA) And that the EPA itself tells us that the largest industrial user of Mercury in the world today is this process for manufacturing these chemicals. And that all of them, meaning all the Chlor-Alkali products, are contaminated with Mercury. Not such a bad thing you might say, I mean in reality you pour bleach into the washer and it goes down the drain and the washer rinses that minute amount of chlorine into the sewer. Same with the drain cleaner, out into the sewer. And of course we all know what happens to it then, the municipal waste water treatment plants all over the country remove all the wastes from the sewage water and dump it back into the waterways and the environment. I mean it is a tiny amount of Mercury. And it just gets flushed out into the ocean, which is pretty big. And the US FDA tells us that tiny amounts of Mercury are not harmful in any way. That's why the flu vaccines contain up to 25 micrograms of Mercury per dose. That's a lot like eating 12 pounds of swordfish in one sitting, or eleven cans of tuna. Which the same US government tells us we should avoid.

I haven't figured out the rationale for that yet. probably won't ever either.

But back to the other problem with Mercury, there is a little tiny bit in all of that Sodium Hydroxide and Hydrochloric Acid that comes out of the Mercury Cell process for manufacturing them. The EPA tells us that for the most part, 80% of these products are still manufactured using the much much cheaper process of Mercury Cells rather than the more expensive Membrane Cell process. Hey, it's cheaper, isn't that what making money is all about? I think I learned that the first week in business class in college, if you can make or buy things cheaper than your competition, all things being the same otherwise, you'll make more money. So industrial users of Chlor-Alkali products prefer to buy the cheaper, Mercury contaminated products over the more expensive, non-Mercury stuff.It's just business, cheaper means greater profits. So, back in the middle part of lhe last century, one of the big agricultural food processors figured out how to make corn syrup. The process is pretty impressive, they take corn, corn cobs and grind it all up and process the stuff with sodium hydroxide and then use enzymes to convert the starches and cellulose structures into fructose and glucose. Then to neutralize the sodium hydroxide, they bathe it in hydrochloric acid. Both are Chlor-Alkali products. As a side note here to the main story, the FDA recently upheld the claim of the Corn Processors Association that High Fructose Corn Syrup is an "All Natural" product. I haven't figured out the rationale for that yet either. and again, probably won't ever.

So back to our story, back in 2003 an FDA inspector by the name of Renee Dufault in the course of her job took samples of High Fructose Corn Syrup and sent them as marked and numbered samples only to a lab that the FDA utilized for testing such stuff. Almost half the samples contained Mercury. As a professional, she reported this information to the heads of the FDA. The response was to stop the investigation into Mercury content of the largest sweeteners used in the food processing More than 3 billion dollars worth of High Fructose Corn Syrup was manufactured in 2005. That translates into about 150 billion dollars worth of processed food products, everything from Poptarts to Manwich, to Coke and Pepsi and pancake syrup. Anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup as an ingredient.

We know that Mercury is a cumulative toxin. If you, or any living organism consumes anything containing Mercury, that Mercury pretty much stays in your system and accumulates in your brain and nervous system along with muscle and fat tissues in your body. That's why the US FDA and the US EPA recommend that we humans don't eat any fish that are high up on the food chain, swordfish, shark and tuna, because these guys eat small fish that ate smaller fish that ate little crustaceans that had a small amount of Mercury in them. The higher up the food chain, the higher the concentration of Mercury.

In 2012 we see that 80% of all Chlor-Alkali products are still manufactured using the hundred and nineteen year old process called Mercury Cell technology. The FDA still ignores this fact.

It's just business after all, big business.

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