Chemicals and Environment

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...

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People buy organic food for many different reasons, most of which are factually incorrect. Quite possibly the biggest myth about organic food is that it is grown without pesticides. That is simply untrue. Others have been led to believe that organic food is...

We're all familiar with those shiny plastic films that keep our meats fresh, or at least fresher, and also enclose breads, cheeses and even fresh vegetables. But there are drawbacks to those films — they don't degrade and thus stay in our landfills forever. They're petroleum products — from non-renewable resources, and they're not really that good at preventing spoilage, since they're too permeable to oxygen, which can oxidize fats. Food scientists have come to the rescue, they...

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, commonly called Proposition 65, was enacted by popular vote in 1986. It was initially sold as a way to prevent cancer and birth defects due to chemicals in drinking water and therefore got an overwhelmingly favorable response. Who isn’t in favor of clean water? (1)

Yet unmentioned by most at that time was that the voter referendum turned California science over to political appointees, who have final authority to make decisions on warning labels. In the last 30 years, despite a lot of strange listings and too many nuisance lawsuits to count, few decisions have been as bizarre as their desire to label BPA as a health hazard even though every national science organization has shown otherwise.

If...