Chemicals and Environment

If someone is going to commit mass murder of innocent civilians, it's not too much of a stretch to assume that he's going to lie about it. Which is exactly what Bashar al-Assad did when he denied that Syria used chemical weapons in the April 4th attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.

There was never much question that the chemical agent used was Sarin gas (1), but since Sarin is Sarin, isn't it at least plausible that someone else used the neurotoxin? Is it fair to pin it on Assad?

Actually, it is. This is because Sarin is Sarin, but without a second chemical called a stabilizer, the molecule is too unstable to keep around; the byproduct of Sarin is hydrofluoric acid, which catalyzes its decomposition. In order to neutralize the...

In the 1967 blockbuster movie The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's character Benjamin returns to his parents' house after college graduation and attends a party there that seems to be populated by mostly his parents' friends. One of them pulls Ben aside to impart a bit of wisdom for business success — in one word; he tells the recent graduate — plastics.

Although Benjamin didn't pay much attention to this revelation, apparently most of us did, because various kinds of plastic are everywhere in modern society — and one that is most obvious is the polyethylene (PE) bags we get at grocery stores. According to the EPA, these ubiquitous items are among the top ten sources of aquatic pollution, and one...

How many of these tropical fish can you name? If you're an avid snorkeler or scuba diver, probably all of them (1). Seeing them in their natural habitat - a coral reef - is an amazing experience. But, the fish that you might see in salt water aquariums (usually not these) may have gotten there in a way that is also amazing, but not in a good way.

 

 

This is because of a barbaric method of catching tropical fish, which not only kills many of the fish before they get to your tank, but also does...

It's a given that the vitamins are necessary for life; but over the years there have been efforts to demonstrate that they also hold almost magical properties with respect to various diseases and conditions — think Linus Pauling with his theories on vitamin C and cancer or the attempt to show that beta-carotene could ameliorate the effects of smoking on lung cancer (neither of which stood up to scrutiny). And more recently, vitamin D has been seen as a candidate for miracle ingredient — this hasn't panned out either, as we explained here. Now we've become aware that several B vitamins are being tested to see if they can prevent the effects of air pollution on the cardiovascular system.

The most recent...

I've read some stupid _ _ _ _  (you know the word) in my time here, so nothing really surprises me anymore. Except when it does.  Like this: "The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions," which was written for The Nation by Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan. Cole is as qualified to talk about science as I am to be a wet nurse. 

Yes, he claims fossil fuel emissions are what Syrians should be worried about rather than a homicidal dictator. His politics are clear, but what about his science? Cole's statement could not possibly get by a chemist without scrutiny. So let's scrutinize.

"Yet the president and...

Some media outlets have claimed that air pollution will make you just as unhappy as the death of a spouse. While the quick joke will be that it depends on the spouse, it shows why economics and surveys should not be conflated with science, even by journalists who are trying to get your attention.

Predictably, outlets like Newsweek dutifully repeated the claim without any critical thinking. Luckily, you have us for that. The short story is that while yes, air pollution could make people surveyed as unhappy as losing a spouse, it also showed both made them half as unhappy as if they lost their job. But that won't sell anywhere near as well in British papers.

Sarah J Knight and Peter Howley. members of the University of York Environment Department, set out to mke...

Not only is spring a beautiful time of year for those of us in the temperate zones, but it is also a financially lucrative period for companies in the business of making tissues, antihistamines, decongestants and other items to help deal with allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever. But for people with the condition, spring is not so beautiful. While most sufferers develop allergic rhinitis in childhood, it can appear in adulthood as well.

Most commonly, pollen from trees and/or grasses are the culprits in causing those sneezing fits, runny eyes, and/or congested nasal passages, and spores of various molds can also provoke symptoms.  Early spring bloomers such as ash, birch, cedar, elm, maple and locust trees, as well as many grass species provide the triggers for such...

Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes another growing season. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower calorie intake; reduce risks for heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes; and protect against certain cancers.

With all these benefits, why do some consumers choose to avoid produce? Approximately three-quarters of people in the U.S. don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

A lot of factors could explain the shortfall, including fear. Media stories about topics such as GMOs and pesticides may convince some consumers that it’s not safe to eat certain fruits and vegetables. There’s no question that negative news...

By Joel Shurkin

(Inside Science) -- Drilling below the floor of the Dead Sea, scientists have found evidence of cataclysmic droughts, far worse than anything ever recorded by humans -- a time when the Dead Sea was much deader.

Evidence taken from a layer of salt recorded rainfall rates of about a fifth of modern levels as recently as 6,000 years ago and another dry episode 120,000 years ago.

The scientists from six nations, who drilled for forty days and forty nights, reached 1,500 feet deep into the sea bed and into the beach.

About halfway down, drill samples showed layers of salt 300 feet thick from the time between ice ages. Mud had washed into the sea when the climate was wet. The crystalized salt precipitated out when it was dry and water receded....

In a world that is jam-packed with things to worry about—most of them nonsense—we have more nonsense, courtesy of California State Sen. Bob Wieckowskia (D): a law requiring warning labels for all foods that contain synthetic dyes and are sold in the state .This includes restaurants. There has never been a law like this before. 

"This bill would establish the Protecting Californians from Synthetic Food Dyes Act, which would make it a crime for a person to manufacture, package, sell, offer to sell, distribute, or import for sale or distribution within the State of California food that contains synthetic dyes without a prescribed label, either on the package or on the shelf or bin where the food is displayed for bulk foods. The bill would require prescribed language to...