Chemicals and Environment

No matter the evidence, some people always will refuse to accept it. Some of those people are university professors.

Joel Moskowitz is one of those professors. With a background in mathematics and social psychology, he now serves as Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health. And he is on a crusade to prove that California (yes, the state that passed Proposition 65, which labels almost anything a carcinogen) is secretly hiding data that shows cell phones are giving people cancer.

Like 9/11 and vaccine truthers, Dr....

It's a good thing that there's always someone around to scare us, or we couldn't possibly be perpetually scared. Fortunately, the Maryland State Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council (CEHPAC) stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded (by using the word "children"). CEHPAC wants you to believe that WiFi in your kid's school is going to give them cancer, and has issued a press release recommending that schools limit or eliminate WiFi.

The group's press release was equal parts propaganda, bad science, and idiocy. A few examples:

  • The Maryland State Department of Education should recommend that local...

If there is anything that infuriates beach and ocean lovers, it is the sight of plastic trash washing up on the beach. And as we use more and more plastic instead of glass (See: Russia's Beautiful Garbage Beach) this form of pollution can only grow. A recent article in Business Insider paints a sobering picture about how much plastic is actually floating around our oceans:

Already, the ocean is filled with about 165 million tons of plastic.

That's 25 times heavier than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Rebecca Harrington,...

Dear Homeland Security Guys,

Despite the title, I am not suggesting that anyone reading this should actually try it. I just liked the title. And, not only is this information readily available, it's unnecessary. If any of you out there want to poison someone, just take them to Chipotle (1). (See: "Chipotle Takes The Stairway To Heavin'" and "Chipotle's Year From Hell-A-Peno."

Instead, this is a little chemistry lesson, which will: 1) discourage roughly 100 percent of even the "human-heads-in-the-freezer" guys who may...

Last week I speculated on the cause of the poisoning death Kin-Jong-Nam, using this table of common poisons:

Sarin (red circle), which is functionally identical to the real culprit VX gas, (except much less potent) seemed like a reasonable candidate because:

  1. It penetrates skin
  2. It is deadly when inhaled
  3. It works really quickly
  4. It requires little...

Initial reports suggest that Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, was murdered with VX, a type of agent used in chemical warfare. What is it, and how does it work?

VX is an organophosphate, a generic name for any molecular compound that contains carbon and phosphate (i.e., ions made of phosphorus and oxygen atoms). Organophosphates are found everywhere. Life-giving molecules like DNA are organophosphates, but so are some pesticides and nerve agents. Given the structure of VX (which includes a sulfur atom), it is more specifically a phosphonothioate. (See image on right.)


It's a headline perfectly befitting The Onion. Unlike stories found in the satirical newspaper, however, this one is absolutely true.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which has replaced Keystone XL as the cause célèbre of the environmental movement, has united Native Americans and political activists in opposition. The merits (or lack thereof) of this infrastructure project are not relevant for this discussion. Instead, let's focus on the activists' incredibly bizarre and destructive behavior.

After months of physically blocking the construction of a legal project, the protesters are finally being forced out. In their undying love for the environment, they are, according to the...

Useless trivia item for a Wednesday:

Whether you are choosing 87, 89, or 93-octane rated gasoline, you're not buying octane. Why? Because if you were actually putting octane into your car, it would screw it up big time.









The "octane" rating of gasoline actually measures the amount of an additive called isooctane. The two are isomers- they have the same chemical formula but different structures and properties. Octane is a chain of eight contiguous carbon atoms. Isooctane has chain of five contiguous and three "branched" carbon atoms. Both are hydrocarbons. The...

Chemists have a variety of reasons for synthesizing things. Sometimes it can be purely academic or exploratory. Other times it can be to provide life-saving drugs (See: Semisynthetic: A *Real* Word That Saves Lives"). Often, research groups will compete to be the first to synthesize a particular molecule. And others will try to provide practical solutions, such as discovering new materials for semiconductors. One rather obscure niche involves finding better explosives.

For more than a century, maniacs have been trying to synthesize a simple chemical called pentazole—a substance that is so unstable that it blows up even when you draw the structure on paper. 

But, a Chinese group just...

If there is one thing that makes ocean lovers crazy, it is trash on the beach, and the worst kind is plastic trash. Unfortunately, we use a whole lot of plastic, and aren't especially carefully about what happens to it when we're done with.

So, we are seeing more and more of this:

And, it should not be surprising that the problem is worse in other parts of the world:

On the other hand, a very special place in Russia has an entirely different kind of garbage "problem." But, it isn't really a problem at...