Don’t Drink The Water

About 1 in every 6400 hydrogen atoms is deuterium, with a proton and a neutron in the nucleus, not just a proton. It’s not exactly like regular hydrogen: the bond energies are slightly different (different reduced mass).

Since living things rely on finely tuned chemical reactions, even small changes have undesirable effects. Deuterate an animal enough and it becomes sterile: deuterate it more and it dies. Some simple organisms, such as blue-green algae, can survive complete deuteration, but it messes them up – they grow slowly and look funny.

So, you can poison someone with heavy water – but although the authorities probably wouldn’t detect it, it takes a lot, and it’s expensive. Stick to thallium.

However, just because small amounts of of deuterium are nonlethal, doesn’t mean that they’re harmless. They might be: or they might not. Nobody knows, because nobody has ever looked. You could think of deuterium as a source of noise in biological systems – and maybe those systems would work better without that noise.

So, if you can afford it, you should undoubtedly stick to my kind of bottled water – sparkling de-deuterated. We know that there are no advantages to conventional bottled water – it’s just another way that people dispose of excess income – but de-deuterated water might actually be good for you. There is a logical case for a beneficial effect – perhaps most strongly in the most complicated of all biological systems, the brain. Mind you, if we’re talking general marketing, invoking logic is about as useless as tits on a dinosaur, but some of my readers might care.

The other attractive feature of de-deuterated water, is that it’s damned expensive. Regular consumption might run $1000 a day or more, and that’s for cheapskates that don’t shower in it. Regular consumption would mark you out as a truly special person: I can see it becoming the official drink of Davos and the Bohemian Club. There would, of course, be many associated products: de-deuterated 12-year old Glenlivet, de-deuterated Kobe beef, etc.

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50 Responses to Don’t Drink The Water

  1. What sort of container would this deuterated water be shipped in and would that substance be deuterated as well? Cheque follows.

  2. MawBTS says:

    I’ll level with you: until now, if I’d heard that bottled water is “highly deuterated”, I would have thought it a good thing.

  3. Nador says:

    Nah, deuterium free water is so old-school. I shall sell potassium 40 free food.

  4. reiner Tor says:

    Obviously, people have been drinking de-deuterated water for a long time now, after Western science and medicine have been telling them deuterium was bad for you. But now there is some newer science here, and it appears that hugging trees and drinking some deuterium are the natural things to do for humans.

    My high quality all-natural organic bottled water with 100% natural deuterium levels is of course not cheaper (because I cleansed it of all unnatural elements, and had to set the amount of deuterium to the most healthy and natural level), so it still costs $1000, but it is much healthier organic water, not lacking in the natural deuterium levels.

    • amac78 says:

      @reiner Tor —

      Before I order, I have a question that’s not addressed by the FAQ at your e-commerce site.

      I’m interested in serving chai made with naturally deuterated water. Are you sure that gentle heating does not diminish its health benefits?

      • reiner Tor says:

        Dear Amac78,

        Thank you for your question.

        Although normally naturally deuterated organic water is quite resistant even to gentle heating, we offer a special type of organic deuterated water specifically designed for boiling. This costs only marginally more (just $100 extra over the price of the standard bottle), so you might consider ordering this special bottle for your purpose.

        • Or for a little more (OK, a lot more) you could get self-heating tritiated water.

          FWIW I was looking through an old UW safety manual, and the prescribed way to dispose of ingested tritium was urination. Of course some would stay with you, but there wasn’t anything anybody could do about that.

    • j says:

      Dear reiner: I dont want to ruin your natural-water business but (1) there is no organic water, water contains no carbon atoms; (2) there is no natural level of deuterium, deuterium varies according to water source: in rain, latitude is important, in wells, the rock formation. (3) You claim that YOU clean out unnatural elements, and charge for it, yet there are no synthetic, transuranian elements on this planet of red sand.

      Discerning water gourmets should order MY water, which is certified to contain less heavy isotopes than the competition. There is a vertical distribution of isotopes in the atmosphere and isotope weight decreases with altitude. My water is sourced in the high Himalayas and generations of Hindu Holy Men have moved to mountain caves to enjoy its healing properties. My high altitude water is also guaranteed to prolong life.

  5. kai says:

    I didn’t know that it was actually tested (algae in pure heavy water). So how toxic is the stuff? Like, what happen if I drink a glass of it?

    • kai says:

      Well, the answer was one wikipedia search away: nothing, except maybe a little dizziness and slightly reduced blood pressure

      • Jim says:

        And wikipedia says there is actually a patent on using heavy water to treat high blood pressure. No doubt for a $1000 a day.

  6. JayMan says:

    But if natural water always contained a small amount of deuterium, might that not be optimal?

    • reiner Tor says:

      That’s what I base my business model on. Drink my natural organic bottled water with absolutely guaranteed natural deuterium levels, and it costs no more than Dr. Cochran’s de-deuterated water, but it is absolutely healthy natural organic water.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Typhoid is about as “natural” and “organic” as it gets.

        • reiner Tor says:

          Yeah, but I won’t tell anyone about typhoid. Why should I?

          My business model is better than yours, because I don’t have to spend money on de-deuteration, but I’m still selling my water for the same price. Maybe I’ll also put some extra homeopathic medicine into it as a selling point, which will cost me $0 and my customers only $50 per bottle.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          I remember Tom Wolfe’s essay about all the diseases that were eradicated by modern hygiene coming back in the late 1960’s at places like Woodstock. Gotta love the natural life…

  7. JayMan says:

    Or might that be optimal, I mean.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Yes, you’d think people adapted to the environmental norm would be optimal so areas where there is too much or too little might be where the action is.

  8. Blessent says:

    Suggestion: shampoo and perfume and other girl products “made with cleaner, lighter, de-toxified, de-deuterated, water” —about a drop of it.

  9. Jus' Sayin'... says:

    Heavy water can be ordered pretty easily over the internet. It’s amusing to demonstrate to children and other easily impressed creatures that one can make ice-cubes that sink rather than float. On the theory that a little Deuterium Hydroxide can’t do a body any serious harm I even let the little rascals lick the “ice-cube” to demonstrate that it really is “water”. (As Professor Cochrane suggests DOH is harmless to ingest in small quantities as I’ve done by licking one of these cubes and as we all do everyday. OTOH my uncle, a physicist on the Manhattan Project, constantly re-assured us of the safety of nuclear materials. He did live into his mid-eighties but ultimately died from the last of a whole series of cancers he began experiencing in his late sixties.)

  10. Jim says:

    Paying $1000 per day for water reminds me of an Isaac Asimov story about a group of space travelors who return to Earth after traversing an orientation reversing path in space. So they can’t utilize ordinary foods and need synthesized food which will cost mucho moola. They have to repeat the trip to get back to their original orientation.

    • MEH 0910 says:

      Arthur C. Clarke had a short story based on mirror inversion. It didn’t end well.

      There are other such stories.
      “In either case, this usually manifests itself as an inability to eat the same food in the same way. Either food tastes different depending on your handedness, or wrong-handed food has no nutritional value or is actively dangerous. Expect some mention of the fact that ethanol is one of the few biologically interesting molecules that doesn’t have this property — so, regardless of chirality, everyone can always get drunk together, and you can make moonshine from organic stuff that’s otherwise useless for you because it’s of the wrong chirality.”

  11. dearieme says:

    “We know that there are no advantages to conventional bottled water”: we’ve found one – it fizzes.

  12. BurplesonAFB says:

    I feel I capture most of the benefits in a Pareto efficient way by letting my water settle and drinking only off the top. Can anyone confirm?

    • j says:

      Airborne pollutants and bacteria will decrease the quality of the upper layer. On the other hand, let your whisky settle and drink the top. It has a higher grade.

    • Dale says:

      D2O molecules would settle, but not much. It’s the same sort of equilibrium as you have in the atmosphere between different gas molecules, the lightest ones can rise the highest. The math is that of the Boltzman distribution: the height needed to reduce the concentration by 1/e is (strength of gravity)(difference in mass)/(Boltzmann’s constant)(temperature). In this case, that’s about 114 km.

  13. Caution: this technique depends on the half life of the settling time

  14. Hesse Kassel says:

    This is a recycling opportunity! Presumably a lot of de-deuterated or partly de-deuterated water is already being made in the heavy water production process. This elixir of life is just thrown away. I will capture the market with this cut rate byproduct.

    At $1,000 a drink so called “hand crafted” de-deuterated water will be only a niche product. It will be bottled in Switzerland or France by local “artisans”.

    • reiner Tor says:

      This also gives some ideas for my business, too. My naturally deuterated organic water would also be hand crafted. I think I can argue that as opposed to those unnatural synthetic industrial waters (de-deuterated or not), my waters are naturally hand crafted by an artisan. The artisan in question would probably be me, and the hand crafting would consist of opening the tap in my Swiss villa.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Ideally, our low-D water would be made with hydrogen taken directly from the Sun, which has already burned up almost all its deuterium. It would be new water, water that was never been part of the Earth’s hydrological cycle: water that has never been dinosaur piss. Robot-made: untouched by human hands.

  15. John M says:

    You peasants stick with yer fancy water. I’m going to market flatware made of steel recovered from the German High Seas Fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow after the First World War. Low background radiation don’t you know. I’ll be rolling in it.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s true. People have used old battleship steel in detectors – low background. That because later steel has fallout products.. people are also using Roman lead in neutrino detection experiments: all the Pb-210 has decayed, and you have much lower background radiation.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Good to know that those men at Jutland did not die in vain…

  16. melendwyr says:

    It’s just as likely that our bodies have adapted to low concentrations of deuterium and would grow ill without it. Drinking only light water might make us sick.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Could be – nobody knows. By analogy, you could compare the situation to trace elements. There are 28 elements that are biologically important, some of which are needed only in microscopic quantities, like cobalt. As far as we can tell (and people have looked pretty hard) the rest of the elements range from useless to harmful – and it seems that in some cases, like lead, it doesn’t take much to cause trouble: way less than the amount of deuterium in the human body.

      If deuterium was shown to have a useful biological function – and it could be so – it would be the first known required trace isotope. Since the fraction of deuterium doesn’t vary much in nature, nobody would ever have suffered from deuterium deficiency, so we wouldn’t have noticed that we needed it. No deficiency disease, no investigations.

      I am not quite sure that discovering this would get you a Nobel, but tenure, surely. Same, probably, if you found that normal levels of deuterium had toxic effects.

      • ohwilleke says:

        It would be pretty easily to study, I would think, and providing low-D water to mice would be a lot cheaper than doing the same for humans. It sounds like the stuff of an Intel Science Fair project.

      • melendwyr says:

        Given that it’s relatively abundant, and spread around more or less equally, everywhere, I can’t see how any species could evolve so as to be harmed. It might be the case that we have to manage the substance, and not having any around would free up the resources we use to do so. But rather more plausible to me is the idea that we might have systems to manage it which are often inactive and which fully activate with greater exposure – like our response to radiation, which is inherently ‘harmful’ yet we do better with higher-than-average levels.

        Wouldn’t it be rather difficult to test the hypothesis? Does food – as a biological product, one way or another – contain less deuterium than water does? Or is it preferentially excluded, or included, in living organisms? That might be a good way to start checking the hypothesis – determining whether the ratio is the same in living or unliving things.

  17. another fred says:

    If I had a whiskey still, I don’t and never ever would, but if I did, could I push the still a little harder after the first cut (whatever that is) and get water with less or more deuterium?

  18. ohwilleke says:

    Purity is overrated. We are built to operate best in “natural” conditions to a great extent. For example, I used to drink distilled water, until my father, an environmental scientist, alerted me to the fact that the minerals in ordinary spring water are important for the right balance in osmosis in the body. Distilled water basically leaches minerals important for bodily function out of cells and out of the body. There is no good reason to think that our bodies aren’t calibrated to natural deuterium levels as well for reasons that may be hard to know in advance. For example, its slightly different bonding may support important processes that need to take place at slow but steady rates in the body.

  19. JP Straley says:

    How about the water consumed in food? I googled an article from Mayo Clinic that suggest it’s tpical that 20% of human water requirement is in food. Hmmm, Does this mean I must control the deuterium in the irrigation water to my garden?

    • Ursiform says:

      If deuterium is really bad for you, an 80% reduction is probably good for you.

      But you’d be going from 1 in 6400 D to 1 in 32000 D. Really likely to matter? Probably not.

      BTW, most of the D in “natural” water is in DOH, not D2O. You don’t get D2O by separation from H2O in water.

  20. James K says:

    “So, you can poison someone with heavy water – but although the authorities probably wouldn’t detect it, it takes a lot, and it’s expensive.”

    If the death is unexplained and the person is not elderly, eventually a toxicologist will order mass spectroscopy, and your secret will be out.

  21. Dale says:

    As a business, it doesn’t look so good: The number of possible customers is really low. And you can already sell ordinary water to the masses for more than gasoline…

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