Cleaning Compounds And Drugs Use Fossil Fuel Chemicals

Cleaning compounds were once produced from animal and plant fats and oils. Fats and grease were cooked with wood ashes. The potassium hydroxide from the ashes decomposed the fats into fatty acid salts and glycerin. The first soaps were these potassium salts of fatty acids. The potassium salt - acid end of the molecule - rendered the compound water-soluble. The long carbon chain of the fatty acid endows the opposite end of the molecule with an affinity for greasy materials. This combination of differing properties in the same molecule makes soap able to disperse oily dirt and serve as a cleaning agent. These soaps functioned well, but had a tendency to react with the calcium and magnesium present in hard water to produce water insoluble scum residues. The residues are highly undesirable in most cleaning applications. When they form, they are exceedingly difficult to remove.

Better cleaning products have been developed using chemicals derived from hydrocarbons. These synthetic detergents are carefully tailored to provide excellent cleaning power without the formation of scum. In most applications hydrocarbons derived cleaners have largely replaced soaps made from animal and plant products. Today 80% to 90% of the cleaning compounds used, both in the home and by industries, are based on chemicals derived from fossil fuel hydrocarbons.

The products discussed above touch us in every moment of our lives. We wake in the morning to an alarm clock in a polystyrene case; we arise from our polyester blend sheets and slip on a pair of slippers glued with polyurethane glue. We flip the polymethylmethacrylate light switch and walk across a Nylon® carpet to the bathroom. Our polymethylmethacrylate toothbrush is sitting on the Formica® counter top. It has Nylon® bristles. The soap we use to wash our face may be hydrocarbon derived sodium lauryl sulfate. We walk to the kitchen with polyvinyl chloride floors and sit at a Formica® table. The polyethylene milk carton is at hand to supply the milk for the cereal stored in the polyethylene bag. It is eaten from a urea formamide bowl. The frying pan has a phenolformaldehyde plastic handle and a Teflon® interior coating.

The drug industry relies heavily on hydrocarbons for compounds used in drug synthesis, for extraction solvents, reaction media, and precursor substances from which microorganisms synthesize drag type materials. In terms of total tonnage this is one of the smaller uses of chemicals derived from hydrocarbons, but in terms of importance it is one of the more significant. Aspirin was first extracted from the bark of the willow tree. Today, aspirin is wholly produced by a synthetic process starting with hydrocarbon chemicals. There are not enough willow trees to come close to providing the aspirin consumed today. Penicillin antibiotics are produced by biological fermentation. Often they are modified by reactions with hydrocarbon derivatives to improve their activity, stability and to increase the number of different types of infections that can be successfully treated.

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