The History of Petroleum and the Overuse of Chemicals!



Are We Chemical Byproducts of the Petroleum Revolution?





It’s true. Our lives would not be the same without the history of petroleum. Transportation, Energy production, Plastics, Personal care products, Cleaning chemicals: Petroleum is everywhere.

In advance, I am not trying to condone our use of petroleum, rather help you find alternative solutions for products that are made from more earth friendly ingredients. My world is my home and it is here that I can make a difference – by sharing this knowledge hopefully it will make a difference in your home too.

Chemical cleaners are a minute spec on the mosaic of products that are made from petroleum. However, for the sake of our future generations, we must start somewhere and start with something easy.

I have tried many “green” Natural Cleaners on the market and I applaud the acknowledgement that we need safer ways to clean. However, the products I used did not suit my expectations in regard to price, effectiveness and scent. So I set out to research and make my own.



It’s hard to believe the extensive use of oil is a recent phenomenon, (yet I term this a history of Petroleum). I learned that the modern oil industry began in Canada and the United States in 1858 when the first oil well was drilled in Petrolia, Ontario followed by the second in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The Industrial Revolution had quickly converted Nature into an abundant resource that provided unlimited growth and expansion. The technology to use the energy from oil led to an age of invention.

In Contrast, soap has been made for thousands of years, made from boiling animal fats with ashes. Chemists turned salt into soda ash, which combines with fat to make soap. Soap making didn’t change much until WWI when a widespread shortage of the animal fats used for soap prompted chemists in Germany to develop the first known detergents, which unlike traditional soap is “synthesized” or dervived from synthetic materials, hence the History of Petroleum begins in terms of Chemical Cleaners.

The production of household detergents started in the 1930’s. After WWII, detergents were combined with surfactants, until detergents were bought more than soap. More and more synthetic detergents were manufactured and because of the History of Petroleum, the relentless production hasn’t stopped ever since.



Chemical cleaners were welcomed into every home because of the magical properties to cut through dirt and grime:



Let me narrow in on the history of petroleum based products, specifically the introduction of household chemical cleaners in the 1940s-1950s. Every housewife accepted them whole-heartedly because they worked like magic.

However, this new technology came with an unforeseen price during the history of petroleum: the health of later generations.





History of Petroleum Chemical Cleaners:

· Manufacturers were not, and are still not, required to test these chemicals to see how they would affect the body's overall health?

· Chemists knew the chemical cleaners killed bacteria and could cut grease and soap scum but they didn’t know how these chemicals could easily be absorbed into our cells and affect our health.

· They should have been more curious about this but they were practical, it was enough to know it cleaned effectively. People saw the positive results of chemical cleaners and were not informed about the hazards and therefore accepted them.

Sadly, not much is different in today's society. Health Canada wrote in an email to CBC Marketplace, "The responsibility for assessing the hazard associated with a chemical product is that of the manufacturer." Although governments are beginning to take action and recognize the dangers associated with chemical cleaners, there is just too many to test. Naturally Clean (2005), states that “80,000 different chemical compounds are in use and every year the EPA approves applications for 2000 more chemicals a year. That’s 5 new chemicals per day! Is it any wonder there is an overuse of chemicals in our homes?

The National Toxicology program tested only 400 of those 80,000 chemicals for carcinogens or 0.5% and found that:

· 5-10% of the 400 chemicals were carcinogens (cause cancer).

· 5-10% of 80,000 would mean 4000-8000 could also be carcinogenic.

· This doesn’t even take into consideration other diseases and conditions, such as hormonal disruptions, nerve and organ damage, asthma and allergies, caused by the exposure to these harmful chemicals.

· Despite the lack of testing, in the US there are over 500,000 cleaning products available to consumers, 10% of which have been tested for safety.



This really shook me up. More people need to be aware of this and I cannot find it in my moral responsibility to sit back and do nothing.

Awareness brings Change.

I want to provide all of the information I deemed relevant to help us all figure out this whirlwind of chemicals and natural alternatives. There are millions of us concerned, I believe we all care, but we don’t know what we can actively do.

What can I do in response to the History of Petroleum?

Although we now have 6.5 billion people on this earth and it is estimated that this number will rise to 14 billion in ten years, this expansion is continuing to grow at an accelerating rate and is affecting our quality of life.

· For example, a few decades ago asthma was not a common illness. In Elementary schools today, 30-60% of children have asthma.

· We need to get our quality of life back! We need to get back to nature and respond to the increasing rates of Cancer, ADHD, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Auto Immune Diseases, Asthma, Allergies, Hormonal, Behavioral, (and the list goes on and on) by taking matters into our own hands, controlling the overuse of chemicals, and changing our mindset to preventing theses diseases instead of depending on finding cures for them.



On a personal note, I have been living with Crohn’s Disease for about 10 years. There is no definitive cause and no cure for this disease. When discussing the probable cause, ie. environmental toxins, diet,stress, etc . my doctor told me it was likely a multitude of environmental causes, and that the damage is done. I will probably never pinpoint the trigger. My children are at greater risk for developing this disease and if I have the power to prevent them from acquiring this, by controlling one major chemical influence, I will.



· She is often credited with launching the global environmental movement and is a great inspiration to me.

· Her book, Silent Spring, revolutionized the way the world looked at pesticides, namely DDT.

· Her concern that the overuse of chemicals, taught people that we have to come to terms with nature and work with it, not against it or else the whole delicate balance of nature would be upset.

· Carson was appalled at how easily people could get these chemicals. They were used in agriculture and farmers would be trained to use them. Housewives who would have had no training used these same chemicals.

Here is a video portraying Rachael Carson in her quest to raise more awareness about the overuse of pesticides and the struggles she faced along the way:





· In Carson’s view, the postwar explosion of science that dominated nature was the root of the problem.

· Human beings were not in control of nature but simply one of its parts: the survival of one part depended upon the health of all.

· She argued that the contamination of man’s total environment with non-tested but potentially harmful chemicals that accumulate in the tissues of plants, animals, and humans have the potential to alter the genetic structure of organisms.

· Although her concern was for pesticides which were used to eradicate insects, I believe our concern is for chemical disinfectants used to kill germs. Just as people were conditioned to fear insects through television ads and posters in the mid 1900s, our society is conditioned to fear bacteria, germs and viruses through television commercials.

· We fear the unknown.

· It seems we are doing more damage than good. How much do you really know about the chemical cleaner you have been exposing your family to over X amount of years?

· Just as pesticides were overused in Rachael Carson’s time, I believe household chemical cleaners including antibacterial soaps and disinfectants are being overused in our homes. The evidence is everywhere. Throughout every book, website, article, journal, documentary and newscast.

Say No to Antibacterial



Again, I am not against chemicals; they have a substantial impact on our lifestyles.

However, I am against the widespread use of Chemical Cleaners with no awareness of what specific chemicals are present in the “multipurpose cleaner” found on every grocery shelf across North America and how these chemicals have the potential to affect our family’s health.

Manufacturers need to be questioned more, their products need to disclose all ingredient lists on their labels and they need to find an natural alternative for all of their products that are thoroughly tested before we welcome them into our homes. Manufacturers need to be held accountable for chemicals in their products. They need to take responsibility and properly label all ingredients on their products so we can make informed decisions. By doing so they will acknowledge that the human body is permeable and vulnerable to toxic substances in the environment and actively address this issue.

I think this is possible with our individual choices. We vote with our dollar. If we stop buying these toxic chemicals, manufacturers will respond.



Media, Consumerism and Chemical Cleaners.

With all the alarms about Global Warming and our increasing Health Issues we must invent a better way to live. Each generation must reevaluate it’s relationship to the natural world so that global contamination doesn’t become a fact of modern living. We must embrace the idea of “Natural” and detoxify our minds and bodies to embrace the future of life and sustain the human spirit.

This is my humble attempt as a Housewife and Stay at Home Mom to tackle one small aspect of reclaiming our health and helping the environment by looking at the History of Petroleum and helping people find alternative solutions to the overuse of chemical cleaners.

I may be a chemical byproduct of the Petroleum Revolution but I will not let my children end up the same way.