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Chemophobia Addressed

April 7, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 14

I finally have an ally in, of all people, a toxicologist—Richard Becker of the American Chemistry Council (C&EN, Jan. 28, page 52)! I joined the Kansas State University faculty in 1959 as an analytical chemist. Even then, my students were afraid of chemicals.

It seemed the news media had a "chemical of the month" and were afraid of anything bigger than water. They had little idea of what a part per million was and a part per billion was beyond them. The toxicologists didn't help; to them, each chemical meant a potential grant.

Some students thought they had but two choices: either eat their food and be slowly poisoned or just go sit in the corner and starve. As a result I explained to them that our ability to detect had outpaced our ability to comprehend. Every time a chemical was mentioned in the news I repeated that statement and discussed it. Later on when I became a science adviser to the Food & Drug Administration, I had more data to present and I believe I slowly made some progress.

Becker says it a little differently, but the idea is the same.

Clifton E. Meloan
Manhattan, Kan.


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