Secret Agent

© 2002-2003 Teresa Kellerman

There is a chemical agent in certain products that are widely available on the shelves of stores all over the country, an agent that has the following properties:

1) It is toxic: It is a hazardous material that at certain doses can cause damage to body organs, including the brain. At very high doses, it can be lethal.

2) It is carcinogenic. It is known to cause cancer in humans.  It is thought to be responsible for approximately 3% of all cancer deaths.

3) It is teratogenic. It is a known human teratogen that causes birth defects in babies whose mothers consumed this chemical during pregnancy

This secret agent is C2H5OH, which is the substanceís chemical formula, having two parts carbon, one part oxygen, and 6 parts hydrogen.  Iíll refer to it as Agent CHOH.  It is a solvent that dissolves easily in water or oil.  It is a water-based chemical and can be found in certain beverages sold in this country.  When this chemical agent is consumed, it breaks down into Acetaldehyde, which is also toxic, especially to the liver.

Agent CHOH is used as a fuel agent.  It is a colorless fluid that is lighter than water.  Agent CHOH is used industrially as a liquid propellant and is highly flammable.  It is listed in various safety manuals such as the Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, Sittig, 1985.

When I told my son about Agent CHOH, he was astounded.  He asked how long I had known about this agent being in consumer products, and if anyone else knew about this.  I told him that the manufacturers of the consumer products that contain this agent do indeed know about the toxic properties and its risk to humans.  He wanted to know why it is being sold to people if it is dangerous.  Good question.

If a chemical agent that is a toxin, a carcinogen, and a teratogen were found in all bottles of apple cider, it would take the FDA no time at all to have all bottles of apple cider removed from store shelves immediately.

This chemical can be produced from sugar cane, corn, and various other grains, and can be manufactured by combining C2H4 together with H2O.  It is not really a secret agent. It is well known by everyone.  This chemical is a drug in the class of psychoactive drugs, those that cause changes in the function of the brain.  If you have not already guessed, Agent CHOH is ethanol, the type of alcohol that is found in beer, wine, and liquor.  Alcohol is a direct cause of 100,000 deaths each year, and causes birth defects and neurological deficits in more than 50,000 babies born each year in the U.S.  Alcohol is our number one health problem, our leading drug problem, a major cause of economic hardship, and is a leading factor in crime, suicide, domestic violence, unplanned pregnancies, and child abuse and neglect.

I am still trying to figure out how to explain to my son why this dangerous chemical is so widely used.  He just doesnít understand.  My son has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

"FAS represents the largest environmental cause of behavioral teratogenesis yet discovered and, perhaps, the largest single environmental cause that will ever be discovered."[Riley, E.P. and C.V. Vorhees. (1986) Handbook of behavioral teratology. Plenum, New York, p. 13]



National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 21 PH 345 July 1993

National Toxicology Program at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

JAMA, Vol. 281, pp. 1106-1109, Mar. 24/31, 1999

Center for Science in the Public Interest Bulletin, May 2000

Further reading:

Teresa Kellerman is President of the FAS Community Resource Center in Tucson, Arizona, and is available for presentations by contacting her through her website:

FAS Community Resource Center