Chemicals and Environment

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.)

VX...

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...

CNN breathlessly reported that “A study by the Silent Spring Institute [1] found fluorinated chemicals in one-third of the fast food packaging tested. Previous studies have shown polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) can migrate from food packaging into the food you eat. What types of packaging pose the greatest risk?

The risk of what? Well, the answer is foreshadowed in the second paragraph "… these substances perfluorooctanesulfonic acids (PFOSs and perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOAs) have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning, as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune...

The American Council on Science and Health, since 1978 America's premiere pro-science consumer advocacy non-profit, is pleased to announce our new book, "Natural and Artificial Flavors: What's the Difference?", in order to combat growing confusion about health issues related to food.

During the last decade, it has become increasingly fashionable to tout "natural" on product labels. It isn't just fringe companies that prey on the chemophobia evident among less-informed members of the public, larger brands have also been exploiting consumers in this fashion.

Yet the distinction between artificial and natural flavors is entirely manufactured. Aside from subjective taste differences, the only way to know the difference is the lack of additional chemicals natural...

Anyone who searches long enough can find that pretty much everything has been linked to cancer. Bacon. Cell phones. Wi-fi. Looking at Ana Dolaskie. At some point the insanity has to stop. Unfortunately, we have yet to reach that point.

Variations of the headline "Nutella may cause cancer" are going viral. As usual, there is almost no support for such hysteria. According to Reuters:

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in May that palm oil generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant...

The much-anticipated intelligence report which concluded that Russia tried to influence the recent presidential election had another startling, yet widely ignored, conclusion: The Russian government promotes anti-fracking propaganda in the United States.

Russia accomplishes this through its "news" network, RT, which promotes the Kremlin's interests around the world. The report, issued by the Director of National Intelligence, states bluntly:

RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government's concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global...

We routinely write about phony chemical scares. Thanks to know-nothings, groups with agendas, and the press, the mere mention of BPA, which is about as close to harmless as chemicals get, sends people into a frenzy. Some will go to great lengths to avoid it, such as refusing to touch cash register receipts.

But, there is nothing phony about phosphine—the gas that recently killed four children in Texas. Phosphine is a real poison and a very potent one at that. Most chemists will go their entire careers without ever using it.

This accident provides an unfortunate opportunity to examine the chemistry of what happened.

Tragically, and inadvertently, a father, who had spread aluminum phosphide under his home to kill insects,  caused the accident by...