Via The Conversation
All too often the use of the word “chemicals” in the news, in advertising and in common usage has the implication that they are bad. You never hear about chemicals that fight infections, help crops grow or lubricate engines. That is because the chemicals doing that job are called antibiotics, fertilisers and engine oil, respectively.
As a result of the emotive language often used in conjunction with “chemicals”, a series of myths have emerged. Myths that Sense about Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry are debunking with the publication of Making Sense of Chemical Stories. Here are five of the worst offenders.
1. You can lead a chemical-free life
Despite the many products that claim otherwise, using the term “chemical-free” is plain nonsense. Everything, including the air we breathe, the food we eat and the drinks we consume, is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if you live off the land, following entirely organic farming practises or are a city-dweller consuming just processed food, either way your surroundings and diet consists of nothing but chemicals.
2. Man-made chemicals are dangerous
So we have established that there is no way to lead a chemical-free existence. But surely natural chemicals are better than synthetic ones?
Nope. Whether a chemical is man-made or natural tells you precisely nothing about how dangerous it is. Sodium thiopental, for example, is used in lethal injections but it’s about as toxic as amygdalin, which turns up in almonds and apple seeds. What makes one of these chemicals dangerous and the other part of your healthy five-a-day is quite simply the quantity that you consume.
Granted there are many documented cases of man-made chemicals that have been banned due to health concerns. But on balance chemicals have done far more good than harm. A good example is brominated flame retardants which are no longer used in furniture due to allegations of unpleasant side-effects. However these worries should be balanced against the estimated 1,150 lives saved because the chemical stopped furniture fires spreading.
Even substances that are upheld as terrible cases of chemical pollutants, such the pesticide DDT, have their place. The World Health Organisation support its use for control of malaria transmitting mosquitoes stating:
DDT is still needed and used for disease vector control simply because there is no alternative of both equivalent efﬁcacy and operational feasibility, especially for high-transmission areas.
3. Synthetic chemicals cause cancer
News outlets are fond of reporting about research showing “links” between particular chemicals and occurrences of cancer and other diseases. Sometimes the stories even claim that a substance definitely causes cancer or definitely cures it.
But more often than not these reports . . .