Chemicals and Environment

All things being equal, it's my belief that avid golfers and plant pathologists normally don't have a whole lot in common. Coming from different worlds, their interests likely intersect with the frequency of a hole-in-one, at best.

However, in at least one instance when they did, the collaboration was as rewarding as watching a laser-like, fairway drive finding the green and coming to rest on the edge of the cup. And after an easy tap in, it was another crowd-pleasing win for science.

Researchers recently became interested in the short-cut grasses of several golf courses in the southeastern U.S. when superintendents from several states began noticing dark, stain-like patches that they've never seen before. And unable to identify them, course caretakers did not know which...

Many natural remedies do not work. Despite those who swear by herbal medicines and other traditions that stretch back, in some cases, thousands of years, modern science often cannot verify the claimed benefits. But that isn't always the case. Occasionally, scientists confirm that a traditional remedy indeed does work, and one such example has been reported recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Native Americans who burned sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) tended to do so for ceremonial purposes. However, some had a more practical use in mind. Two groups of Native Americans, the Flatheads of Montana and the Blackfoot of Alberta, used sweetgrass as an insect repellent. They did so by burning the grass and allowing the smoke to saturate their...

The Environmental Protection Agency is punting a final decision on the safety of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate to the next administration.

Since 2009, the agency has been conducting a registration review of glyphosate, one of the world most widely-used herbicides, and evaluating any risk to human and environmental health, an assessment required every 15 years.

The lengthy process has been fraught with delays, accusations of political maneuvering and even Congressional investigations.

Under questioning by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in June, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy assured lawmakers the review would be finished this...

There has been a long history of ridiculous fearmongering by environmental activists masquerading as health experts. BPA, MSG, Alar, DDT, and food coloring are just a handful of chemicals that fell prey to overblown fears or outright fabrications. Today, the whipping boy that takes the brunt of the unfounded chemophobic assault on science is the herbicide glyphosate.

Glyphosate is demonized primarily for one reason: Monsanto. To many of its irrational detractors, who refer to the company as "Monsatan," anything the company touches is, by definition, evil. The seed giant genetically engineered some of its crops to be resistant to glyphosate so that farmers could spray it on their fields; the crops would survive while the weeds were destroyed. It's not a perfect solution. For...

It seems like a hundred years ago that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was considered a neutral force for public good - but it was only 51.

In 1965, when the Agency was created by the United Nations, there was a lot of optimism about science and the future and IARC was created to instill confidence in the public about the difference between real harm and scaremongering.

The optimism was warranted. By the early 1960s, we had the DNA helix, we had the polio vaccine, we had found Coenzyme Q in humans, we had survived our first big environmental scare, the Cranberry fiasco of 1959, with both Presidential candidates (Kennedy and Nixon) wolfing...

Global public health

Human sovereignty over the environment is a double-edged sword. For instance, on the one hand, advances in science and technology have caused deaths from infectious diseases to plummet around the world. But on the other hand, some pollution has been linked to chronic diseases that erode both our health and life spans. Reducing exposure to noxious environmental factors is a major goal of global public health. But there is some confusion over what "environmental" means in other countries.

A team of international researchers, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, recently attempted to assess the share of the global disease burden directly attributable to environmental risks. Their findings were published in the Journal of Public Health.

First, the...

Besides making wigs, or perhaps some rather bizarre clothing and artwork, there aren't a lot of practical uses for discarded human hair. But that could change thanks to a team of Japanese and South Korean chemists.

Published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, the team has demonstrated the use of human hair to grow catalytic nanoparticles (i.e., nanoparticles that are capable of carrying out chemical reactions).

Why human hair? Nanoparticles, like crystals, often need to be grown on something, particularly if they are going to be immobilized for the purpose of carrying out chemical reactions. Various support structures have been used, from wood to...

It is nearly impossible to get every last drop of liquid foods out of their containers. Ketchup and syrup are among the worst offenders. In fact, up to 15% of liquid foods can be wasted due to such inefficient packaging.

Superhydrophobic coatings, which are extremely water-repellent, have been proposed as a fix. A few years ago, a company called LiquiGlide made a big splash (no pun intended) with a video that showed ketchup sliding effortlessly out of a bottle. Their technology employs a "liquid-impregnated surface," which as its name implies, involves a specialized surface that is able to contain within it a second...

Once again the press (and a whole bunch of scientists) got it wrong. Halfway anyhow.

After years of debate, the FDA finally made the decision to ban antibacterial hand soaps. Good for them. The soaps are worthless, and possibly harmful, something I wrote about in 2015.

The decision makes perfect sense, especially if you consider the risks and benefits of triclosan, the bacteria-killing chemical which is now banned from hand soap. Triclosan containing soaps did nothing more to prevent disease than washing your hands with plain old soap. If the benefit of adding a chemical is zero, then the risk to benefit ratio is automatically infinity, even if the chemical in question has even a...

I have been a long-time reader of Pacific Standard (once called Miller-McCune), a publication that tries to be the West Coast equivalent of The Atlantic. That is a fine mission because, as a Seattleite, I am keenly aware that there aren't many West Coast media outlets that capture the attention of the rest of the nation. 

When I was still editor of RealClearScience (RCS), I frequently linked to Pacific Standard's content, particularly articles produced by Tom Jacobs, who was and continues to be a fine social science writer. However, in recent months, the magazine as a whole has become nearly unreadable. As its political cheerleading becomes more and more blatant, its standards for science journalism have fallen. I don't think that is...