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January 17, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 3

It's no miracle

My colleague and I read your Science & Technology Concentrate titled "Walking on water" with great amusement (C&EN, Nov. 8, 2004, page 42). Since people have densities approximately the same as water, and since surface tension effects would be negligible over the area of a person's shoes, it seems to us that you would need a bubble on each shoe equal in volume to half your body volume. So don't try to walk on water any time soon.

Doug Barrick


There is a certain irony in the fact that one of the crops Rick Mullin mentions as a source for chemicals is soybeans, when recently the Department of Agriculture announced that a new fungus that reduces soy crop yields by 80% has recently been found in Mississippi and is now spreading northward ("Sustainable Specialties," C&EN, Nov. 8, 2004, page 29). No matter how you slice it, plant resources are no more reliable than mineral resources.

I agree that we need to reduce our dependence on oil, but the chemical industry uses a small fraction of the total, and it is the energy sector that really can do something. If we could reserve oil and gas for nonenergy uses only, we would literally never run out.

Werner Zimmt
Tucson, Ariz.

Pesticide study backlash

The Environmental Protection Agency's study of the effects of pesticide exposure on children (C&EN, Oct. 18, 2004, page 10) was immediately suspended because of the public outcry that resulted when it was reported and described in the media (C&EN, Nov. 15, 2004, page 7). The study, which is currently being "reexamined," proposed to pay the parents of 60 children up to $970 to intentionally put their children, from birth to three years of age, at risk from pesticide poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Florida's Duval County Health Department were involved in the planning, and the study was to be funded in part by the American Chemistry Council.

These events are stark reminders of the following:

* Appalling activities can be supported with public funds, even by agencies whose mission is to protect the public.

* The power of shining light on these activities can bring about a constructive result. How many of those children were spared illness and worse because of what C&EN and other ethical members of the press reported?

* The vigilance of a free press is the mechanism for keeping our public servants honest and reminding them of their respective obligations. Our public servants should serve all the people, regardless of income or business interests.

* The "reexamination" of the protocols may be a euphemism for waiting until the furor dies down and performing the study anyway.

This issue has not gone away. Any action on this study, other than its cancellation, should be reported promptly, accurately, and widely. How about designing epidemiological experiments concerned with the effects on health of removing those pesticides from the environment? Not cost-effective enough?

C. S. Russell
New York City

Reflections on Bhopal

On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal, India, tragedy, I had the opportunity to represent the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) at two conferences in India. Both forums offered a reflection on what the chemical industry had learned since Bhopal. In between conferences, I also had the opportunity to visit the plant where the terrible incident occurred and the hospital to which the victims were taken.

Returning to the site of this disaster makes the 3,400 immediate deaths and perhaps 15,000 additional deaths over time that resulted from this tragedy all the more real. It is one thing to read about the tragedy, but quite another to stand on the very spot that it happened and see the preserved forensic evidence.

Many mistakes were made on the night of Dec. 2–3, 1984, and in the months and years leading up to that fateful night and in the months and years since then. But as I reflect back on meeting 300 dedicated safety professionals who traveled from 27 different countries to commemorate Bhopal, I was heartened to know that there is a large and growing international league of engineers championing the cause of chemical safety within their companies.

Many things also were done correctly that night. For example, an engineer saved hundreds of people by bringing them inside a hotel, keeping them calm, and helping shelter them in place, the appropriate action for the public to take in nearly all chemical release situations.

There are many ways that you can help champion the cause of chemical safety. Of course, numerous environmental groups work very hard to drive regulation and public opinion, and these all serve an important purpose. However, if you are an engineer interested in working from inside the industry to put real solutions in place, we at CCPS would like to hear from you.

Scott Berger
Director, AIChE Center for Chemical Process Safety
New York City

Learning from chlorine

I applaud your decision to bring the debate over chlorine's contribution to our civilization to the scientific realm and beyond by inviting two of the prominent experts in the field to write Point-Counterpoint (C&EN, Oct. 18, 2004, page 40). Throughout my career in the chemical industry and environmental management, including working with one of the largest PVC manufacturers, I have been faced with situations where many of the arguments that Terrence Collins and C. T. (Kip) Howlett Jr. presented in the article were exchanged. Often, however, the questions posed came in the forms of sharp criticism toward the industry, which "shamelessly profited from polluting our environment and harming our future generations."

It is indisputable that our society has benefited from the advancement of chlorine chemistry in the past, and chlorine derivatives continue to be an indispensable facet of our lives today. It is also indisputable that chlorine chemistry and related processes have generated by-products that may have prolonged impacts on our environment today.

The lesson learned from today's debate over chlorine, I believe, lies in how well we scientists and managers are able to fully realize the positive attributes of new chemistry while ensuring identification and anticipation of any significant impacts derived from those inventions and subsequent actions. A present-day example of such consideration is the recent explosion in nanotechnology and the profound toxicological profiles and potential environmental impacts associated with various nanomoieties.

With the advent of environmental management and "triple-bottom-line" accountability, international management system standards such as ISO 14001 have entered into mainstream business management. Many members of the Chlorine Chemistry Council and the American Chemistry Council have embraced and implemented ISO 14001 in their organizations. Key requirements of the ISO 14001 standard include identifying the environmental aspects of the organization's activities, products, and services; distinguishing those that it can control and those that it can influence, taking into account planned or new developments or new or modified activities, products, and services; and determining those aspects that have or can have significant impacts on the environment.

Documented environmental aspect identification and the subsequent impact analysis, together with the continual demonstration of active management of significant aspects and minimized impacts, not only forms the backbone of an effective management system but is also a critical stepping-stone toward achieving a balanced and sustainable "triple bottom line." After all, I reckon, it is only the right thing to do.

Wilhelm Wang
Westwood, N.J.

Ionic liquid database

My colleagues and I appreciate your very fine article on organic synthesis with ionic liquids (C&EN, Nov. 8, 2004, page 44). The article covered the subject with a depth that is rarely seen.

I strongly support the statement in the article that "it is important to develop a good database of all the information available on ionic liquids. Unless we have all this information, the growth will be limited to a few sectors."

I can also offer some information about efforts that directly address the expressed need. In 2003, an international effort was launched through the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry to meet this important need. The IUPAC project (Number 2003-020-2-100) is titled "Ionic Liquids Database." The task group chair is Kenneth R. Seddon of Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Task group members, representing industry, academia, and government, are Andrew Burgess, Michael Frenkel, Marcelle Gaune-Escard, Andreas Heintz, Joseph Magee, Kenneth Marsh, and Roger Sheldon.

The project's objective is to address the need for an open-access, public-domain data storage system scoped to cover information pertaining to ionic liquids. The vision for this project is to create a distributed-access data retrieval system for ionic liquids and their mixtures that encompasses chemical structure, solvent properties, ionic liquids use in synthesis, reviews, reactions and catalysis, manufacturer information, benchmark properties and models, and thermophysical and thermochemical data.

In January of 2004, the task group met in Delft, the Netherlands, to develop a shared vision and to divide the data collection effort among the participants. More information on this project is available from IUPAC at

Joseph Magee
Boulder, Colo.


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