Chemicals and Environment

Barbara Demeneix, a team leader at The Paris Natural History Museum, certainly has credentials. She earned a Ph.D. in endocrinology and physiology from the University of Calgary, published two books, more than 170 papers, and received a number of awards for her work primarily focused on thyroid function.

That's why it's hard to understand, with such training and experience, how Demeneix became one of the head counselors in the "Endocrine Disruptor Camp," which all but guarantees a certain amount of nuttiness.  Once again that camp does not disappoint chemophobes and homeopaths who think any trace of any chemical does something important. This time she claims we should stop using...

The chemistry of gasoline is not as simple as you'd think. In the absence of additives, your engine will knock itself into oblivion (See: Octane Rating And Lead: Explaining The Chemistry Of Gasoline). Over the years, a number of anti-knocking additives have been used, including one that, in hindsight, was a terrible idea: tetraethyllead (the lead in leaded gasoline). More recently methyl t-butyl (MTBE) was used until it was discovered that the chemical was water soluble (duh) and accumulated in groundwater. Tetraethyllead was banned in 1996 and MTBE hasn't been used since 2005.

At this time almost all...

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared he will ban the American herbicide glyphosate within three years, and sooner if a replacement is ready. Italy has vowed to do the same. Activists have said the replacement is already available, and it has been used in France since 1863 - a fatty acid called pelargonic (a.k.a. nonanoic, because of the nine carbon atoms) acid. Chemically, it's pretty close to a soap. Does this make any sense toxicologically? Is this another case of "natural = safe?" Or is something else going on? Let's take a look at the toxicological and...

It's not an uncommon situation faced by farmers: using additives to boost crop production, which then generates an unwanted problem down the line.

Solutions vary, depending on the specific dilemma. But in the case of cranberries, and how they are harvested in southeastern Massachusetts and the environmental issues the process can create, the answer in this instance is both sensible and straightforward.

The answer is chemistry.

Cranberry growers use lots of water, a process that floats the berries in the field and makes them easier to gather. Beforehand, to increase production often they add fertilizer that's rich in phosphorus, but that chemical is included in the farm-water runoff that makes its way downstream to lakes. However, too much phosphorus in lakes can...

A recent editorial in JAMA Marijuana, Secondhand Smoke, and Social Acceptability begins by remarking on “The cloud of secondhand marijuana smoke” visible a half mile away from a 420 party [1] in Golden Gate Park. (Obviously, the work of people capable of making joints larger than Cheech and Chong could imagine.)

The authors point out that this behavior, if smoking tobacco rather than weed, would be “unthinkable (and illegal)” because it has to do with social acceptability – pot good, tobacco bad. To bolster their acceptability argument, they note differences between the two combustibles. For example, 16% of high school sophomores and 25% of high school seniors report marijuana use,...

Did you know that 24k gold (at least 99.7% pure) makes lousy jewelry?  It is so soft that it can be bent by hand and you can even bite into it. To make it strong enough to be used as jewelry, other metals are added to form alloys (two or more metals dissolved in each other). Silver and copper are the most commonly used metals that are added to gold. 

Did you know that the same holds true for pure silver? It is also too soft to be used as jewelry, so it is mixed with copper. The composition of sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. 

Did you know that a silverfish is not made of silver?

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The traffic on Thanksgiving is killer. If you happen to be driving to Aunt Wilma's in Connecticut you will find this out for yourself. But what about when you arrive? Which is riskier? The trip or the meal (1)?

Of course, there is no right answer here, but one thing is for certain: Unless your Thanksgiving meal consists of distilled water, you are going to be eating some toxic chemicals, and it doesn't matter whether the turkey is "organic" or not. Or anything else in the meal. So I thought it might be sort of fun to take each course and arbitrarily select one of many chemicals that is in that course. Then let's take a look at what the professional chemical scaremongers have to say about each. Bon appétit!

First course: Wine (sulfites)...

Over the past few years the whisky-drinking world has been introduced to several new products that claim to produce high-quality liquor in just a fraction of the time usually required to age single malt spirits. Instead of maturing the whisky for a decade or more in oak barrels, some distillers say they can replicate the quality and taste in a matter of weeks.

As global whisky consumption continues to rise, could these new aging techniques be the answer to protecting supply? Or are the claims too good to be true? And even if the taste measures up, does that still necessarily make it the same as a fine aged malt?

Recent innovators in this field include Lost Spirits, whose prizewinning rums and single malts use a...

Whether it's in the body or in a lab, chemical reactions are omnipresent; life depends on thousands of chemical reactions as do virtually all of the products that we use every day. 

The concept is straightforward. A chemical reaction is a process in which a chemical compound (a reactant) is converted into a different compound (a product). The product of a chemical reaction is not only an entirely different molecular entity but also will usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of the reactant(s). No chemical reaction demonstrates this better than what happens when sodium and chlorine are combined (Figure 1).  

1. Two deadly chemicals can react to form one that is harmless

Sodium is a soft, highly reactive metal, which explodes when added to...

The Internet is abuzz with new claims that hoppy beers, found in abundance in the IPA craft fad, are going to turn men into voluptuous women - because of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This is not the first time it has come up. Endocrine disruptors became a trend in the 1990s so anything with the word estrogen in it was linked to changes in humans. Since hops (Humulus lupulus L.) contain a phytoestrogen it was first linked to Brewer's Droop - man boobs (moobs!) - in 1999. 

Now it has gotten new attention thanks to Vice. The more hops a beer has, Raquel Callis tells...