Science Borealis

Science Borealis
Science Borealis

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A chemical is just a chemical after all

I just read a most inspiring article by Michelle M. Francl about chemophobia.
Yes, you read it right - CHEMOPHOBIA - the irrational fear of chemicals. It is this fear that makes people do anything from (a someone innocuous) switch from hard chemical cleaners to more environmentally friendly cleaning agents (which is not necessary a bad thing) to the more dangerous action of preventing life saving medication to your children.

But why do we fear chemicals?
Perhaps it is due to how media portrays them? (check out time 1:37 in Toxic Trespass)

Lets get something straight.

Chemicals can be bad for you! (and so do people)
Chemicals can also be good for you! (and so do people)

So how do we know which is good and which is bad? - Experience!
And the people who have experience with chemicals are called Chemists!

Here's an example.
A certain chemical has the following attributes:
When pure it comes as white to off-white powder
May be harmful if inhaled.
May cause respiratory tract irritation.
May be harmful if absorbed through skin.
May cause skin irritation.
May cause eye irritation.
May be harmful if swallowed.
The LD-50 (the lethal dose that would kill half of the rats tested) is only about 2 teaspoons per kg
Its chemical name is ascorbic acid

and here's the important point - you cannot function without it. This is Vitamin C.

The moral of the story is simple. Yes, chemicals can be bad for you. But it depends. How much of it is dangerous? in what form is it dangerous?

Chemicals should be treated as with anything else in life - in moderation and with care.
Don't accept things as dangerous just because they are "chemicals" (all matter around you is a chemical - even water), but also don't accept things as good for you just because they are "natural" or "organic" (they are still chemicals, like the extract of the bark of the Willow tree which is highly toxic, unlike its synthetically modified version of salicylate, better known as Aspirin, which has the same beneficial affects as the bark of the Willow tree, but much less toxic).

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