Chemicals and Environment

There's a lot of money to be made in kowtowing to the latest dietary fads and unsubstantiated health scares. As a result, organic products -- which are sold to people based on the myths that they are safer, healthier, and tastier than conventional products -- are now a nearly $50-billion-industry in the U.S.

Other companies have noticed and jumped aboard the bandwagon. If there is money to be made, they are eager to throw science under the bus in order to prey on a scientifically illiterate populace. The proliferation of ridiculous labels -- from...

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has moved to place a ban on methylene chloride (dichloromethane, DCM) citing associations to a higher risk of cancer and neurological and liver problems. This was proposed in 2014 and under the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA was required to perform risk evaluations on the uses of ten specific chemicals, including methylene chloride.

With a new administration and concern about "...

Bacteria come in two very broad categories based on the structure of their cell walls, the outer region that gives the cells shape and integrity. The cell walls of Gram-positive bacteria consist of a membrane surrounded by a thick layer of sugar and protein, while the cell walls of Gram-negative bacteria consist of a membrane surrounded by a second membrane.

This fundamental anatomical difference has a profound medical implication: The types of antibiotics that can kill Gram-positive bacteria are likely ineffective against Gram-negative bacteria and vice versa. A major reason is the cell wall: An antibiotic may be able to penetrate one type but not the other. This is why, for...

Here's a chemical that you don't want to screw around with: sulfuric acid. The only thing good about it is that it is not volatile. The only thing bad about it is everything else.

And it's pouring out of the Kilauea volcano as we speak. Sort of.

Chemists generally hate using the stuff. The old expression "add acid to water" (1), although it applies to acids in general, is really reserved for sulfuric acid, which is 98% pure in the bottle. When it comes in contact with (all sorts of things) it reacts violently and can generate a whole lot of heat. One of these things is water. Sulfuric acid really loves water, so much so that if you place both a half-full beaker of water and one half-filled with concentrated sulfuric acid in a closed...

With all due respect to government officials and their decades of well-intentioned effort to reverse algae bloom, it's now the private sector's time, led by ingenious researchers, to tackle this ever-expanding crisis.

And an eight-figure cash reward as an incentive for the winner doesn't hurt, either.

A scientific competition, which began in July 2016, is seeking to produce a workable solution to the problem of explosive algae growth, which has plagued the Florida coast to the Great Lakes, and beyond, and has been getting progressively worse since the 1990s. 

These huge green toxic swaths, predominantly a product of farm runoff and wastewater treatment plant emissions, are choking lakes, streams, inlets and other ecosystems. Among other problems, algae choke off...

Humans like to do something. We go to war on cancer, we battle it, we seek to defeat it. We buy Tamiflu even though on even the most optimistic surveys of people who buy Tamiflu (and thus have white hat bias), it might knock off a few hours of symptoms. It's why placebos such as homeopathy, or useless herbal draughts of mysticism in naturopathy, are still being purchased. If people do something and a cold still ends in three days, at least they weren't bored.

When media-created claims about a "beepocalypse", manifested by a Colony Collapse Disorder, took environmental fundraising circles by storm, we all wanted to do something. Donors for doomsday groups rushed to...

I've been a science writer and editor for nearly eight years. During this time, I've learned a few things.

Perhaps the most important is that science is never enough. It doesn't matter if you have facts, data, and logic on your side, a substantial proportion of people will reject what you say and call you bad names. The reason, usually, is because they have an ideological conflict of interest -- by far, the worst kind of conflict of interest. That is, they are so dedicated to a particular viewpoint, that literally nothing will change their minds. That is anathema to science.

Editors must be aware of that fact. Otherwise, they are likely to be...

A new paper in PNAS expresses concern that decades of progress in cleaning up U.S. air quality mean improvements for two pollutants have slowed in recent years.

That's to be expected. By any measure, American air quality is terrific (1), and despite the calls for more regulations on business, U.S. technology is way ahead of regulators. For example, in 2009 the U.S. government attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and pledged to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020. To do so, the White House directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to slash carbon dioxide (CO2), which resulted in the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in 2015. That new regulation never came into force, nor was it needed. The free market has...

There can be no better example of the damage done by quackery masked as "alternative medicine" than the tragic case of Chad Green. In 1977, at age two, Green was diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). At that time the cure rate for childhood ALL with chemotherapy was about 50%. Now it is about 90%. Chad Green died in 1979, a victim of uninformed parents and quacks that exploited them.

For the full story, which is heart-wrenching, I cannot recommend highly enough the first chapter of Dr. Paul Offit's book, "Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of...

Last week, a day-long meeting was held at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina to discuss the results of a $30-million federal study designed to assess the safety of bisphenol A, or BPA. The study, CLARITY-BPA, represents a collaboration between two camps that have long been at odds over the safety of BPA: scientists and regulatory experts at the FDA, on the one hand, and academic scientists, who are funded by the NIEHS, on the other.

BPA has been used for over 50 years in the epoxy resin linings of food...