[NAFEX] ? for Doc about surfactants

Stephen Sadler Docshiva at Docshiva.org
Fri Apr 15 19:13:45 EDT 2005

Yes, Doc L said that surfactants could be dangerous in the diet, and then I
pointed out that some are very edible.  But I don't disagree with what he
said: that they are strong reagents.  Yes, many surfactants are strong
reagents - some are very alkaline, and will react readily with acids,
forming salts.  Strongly reagent molecules, particularly biologically
derived alkaloids, can be very active in organisms, in both helpful and
hurtful ways.  


'Surfactant' is a property shared by many molecules, some bio-friendly, some
not at all.


Stephen Sadler, Ph.D.

USDA 9, AHS heat zone 8, 

Sacramento CA - Mediterranean climate


From: nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Stephen Sadler
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2005 4:04 PM
To: 'North American Fruit Explorers'
Subject: RE: [NAFEX] ? for Doc about surfactants


I know I'm not the doc you asked, but here's a bit more on the subject:


A surfactant (short for SURFace ACTive AgeNT) is a chemical which will
reduce the surface tension of a liquid.  The molecules generally have a
hydrophilic - or water-attracting end, and a lipophilic, or fat-attracting
end.  Soap is a surfactant, and the dual-philic molecule is what makes
greases and oils 'dissolve' in water; the surface between the two normally
non-mixing fluids dissolves, as each type of molecule is attracted to the
soap.  Egg yolks contain the surfactant lecithin, and detergents use
surfactant molecules to help mix greasy stains into the wash water so they
can be rinsed away.  Many plants (mustard, soapwort, soy) make surfactants,
and some of the chemicals that animal bodies make have those properties.
There is nothing inherently harmful in the group of compounds.  Some
surfactants (wetting agents are surfactants) will penetrate plant or animal
skins, and can carry other chemicals with them; or just carry themselves.
Insecticidal soap can invade soft-bodied insects and introduce a large
amount of itself into their systems, in quantities that are deadly to the
wee beasties.  


The potential environmental problems are due to the type, amount, specific
lethality, and biodegradability of surfactants released into the
environment.  If you choose an organic alternative to Roundup, it may still
contain a surfactant, which is fine.  The one(s) in Roundup seems to be very
harmful to amphibians.  


I will now wash my hands of the matter - safely, with no environmental
concerns, with a nicely surfactant organic artisan-made soap.


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