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Science Wing for Gilbert N. Lewis, Blood Simple, 130-year-old Fire Is out

by Marc S. Reisch
November 22, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 47



Science wing for Gilbert N. Lewis

In the early 1990s, retired chief inhalation therapy technician Harold R. Paretchan, now 83, of Weymouth, Mass., found a mission. He discovered that the late University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Gilbert N. Lewis had been born in Weymouth in 1875 but was largely unrecognized in the town, and Paretchan resolved to fix this oversight.

Over the years, Paretchan has written more than 4,000 letters to scientists and government officials in an effort to gain greater recognition for Lewis (C&EN, June 28, page 96). Among honors he's arranged: A Gilbert Newton Lewis Day was declared by the State of Massachusetts, and a Weymouth street was named G. N. Lewis Way.

Last month, another honor was added to the list when Weymouth High School named its science wing for Lewis. On hand for the dedication ceremony were Paretchan (above left) and Harvard University chemistry professor and 1986 chemistry Nobel Prize winner Dudley R. Herschbach (right), a long-time correspondent and supporter of Paretchan's.

"We should give science, education, and medicine more their due," Paretchan says. "We owe so much to you people of science. And that's the way I feel."

Blood simple

The European Union's proposed chemical registration regime recently received an unusual vote of confidence. As part of its campaign in support of the European Commission's Registration, Evaluation & Authorization of Chemicals program, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) tested blood samples from 14 ministers of health and environment from 13 European countries.

Every one of the samples was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals, according to WWF. In all, WWF DetoX Campaign Director Karl Wagner says, 55 chemicals, of a possible 103 chemicals for which they tested, contaminated the blood of the ministers.

The group conducted the tests in June on ministers from Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. Two ministers from Hungary, of environment and of health, donated blood samples for the WWF study, which was issued in October and titled "Bad Blood?"

At least one of the ministers offered reassurance to his constituents. According to the Western Mail, Alun Michael, Britain's minister of state for rural affairs and local environmental quality, said that the levels of contaminants in his blood and those of the other ministers were low and should not cause immediate alarm.

130-year-old fire is out

A chinese coal mine fire that first started in 1874 has finally been extinguished, BBC News reported.

The fire, at the Liuhuanggou mine near Urumqi in Xinjiang province, was the largest among eight coal fires in the Xinjiang area. It emitted 100,000 tons of gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, and 40,000 tons of ash every year.

At an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting last year, Glenn B. Stracher, professor of geology at East Georgia College, said that coal fires in China alone consume up to 200 million tons of coal per year. Other countries with raging fires are India and Indonesia, although smaller fires are burning in the U.S., in Pennsylvania and Colorado, for example.

Coal fire emissions are thought to be so large that eliminating them would be a way to deal with proposed strictures on fossil fuel emissions of global greenhouse gases, said AAAS meeting attendee P. M. (Paul) van Dijk of the Netherlands-based International Institute for Geo-Information Science & Earth Observation.

This week's column was written by Marc Reisch. Please send comments and suggestions to


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