Gleams & Notions

Water, Water Everywhere...

By Harvey Fishman, Consultant | June 29, 2012

Rising temperatures are melting the polar ice caps and releasing water into the oceans.
A long time ago, I was testing the chemical knowledge of a former girlfriend by asking if she knew what H2O stood for.

“Water,” she replied.

My followup question was what is H2O2?

She answered, “Hot water?”

No, it is, of course, hydrogen peroxide. This column will try to impart basic information about water.
Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface and is vital for all known forms of life, including human life. The percentage of water in our bodies is as follows:
  • Blood – 83%;
  • Muscles – 75%;
  • Brain – 95%; and
  • Lungs – 90%.

It is obvious that cells must be hydrated in order to function as the major components in cells such as proteins, DNA and polysaccharides are dissolved in water.

On Earth, 97% of the planet’s water is found in oceans. There is an equal amount (1.7%) in ground water and glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland.

A tiny amount (0.001%) is in the air as water vapor in the clouds. Only 2.5% of this water is fresh (not salt) water and about 99% of that water is in ice and ground water.

Approximately 70% of the fresh water used by humans goes to agriculture.

Water Sources
Glacial ice is probably the purest source of water, followed by snow. Rain, however, contains dissolved gases as well as traces of carbon dioxide, various inorganic salts and ammonia, with both organic and inorganic dust held in suspension.

Water from streams and lakes in mountainous areas is relatively free from organic impurities but may contain dissolved inorganic salts, while water from lowland rivers and lakes may be highly polluted.
Water from springs or wells has filtered through the ground, which may rid the water of organic contamination, but it still may contain inorganic salts.

Sea water has about 2.7% by weight of dissolved sodium chloride, 0.4% magnesium chloride, 0.2% magnesium sulfate, 0.15% calcium sulfate and 0.05% potassium chloride. Traces of all naturally occurring chemical elements are also present.

A Range of Uses
In industrial applications, water is used as a solvent, catalyst, diluent or dispersive medium and cooling agent. It also is a source of hydroelectric power and steam generation.

Industrial hydrogen is obtained from water by electrolysis or by passing steam through a bed of hot coal.

In science, it is used as a standard for representing certain physical units such as a liter or calorie and as a standard of comparison for physical properties such as specific gravity or relative viscosity.

In cosmetics and other industries, the more water present in the formula, the less expensive it is to produce. In fact, when I calculated a cost sheet, I never considered the cost of the water.

Most manufacturers use deionized water. Filtered tap water can also be acceptable. Water is volatile.
If the formula is heated, cold water should be added after the batch is cooled to restore the original volume.

Unfortunately, due to global warming (inducing evaporation), and water pollution, the supply of fresh water is diminishing.

Lakes, rivers and wells that provide this fresh water make up less than 1% of the world’s water supply.
Perhaps, if the cost of desalination of sea water could be lowered in the next few years, the world might never run out of potable water.


Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.
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