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Mark Trail Chemistry, Chemistry In Haiti

by Stephen K. Ritter
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Chemistry everywhere:
Credit: © 2009 NAS King Features Syndicate
Lost Forest gets polluted!
Credit: © 2009 NAS King Features Syndicate
Lost Forest gets polluted!

Chemistry has popped up unexpectedly in the "Mark Trail" newspaper comic strip. Some evildoers have illegally dumped chemical waste, and environmentalist Trail is currently HOT ON THE TRAIL of finding out who is to blame.

Introduced in 1946 by Ed Dodd but later handed off to Jack Elrod, the strip follows the life and times of Trail, a handsome and upright outdoor magazine writer and photojournalist. Trail lives in Lost Forest, a fictitious nature preserve, along with his wife, Cherry; their adopted son, Rusty; and Cherry's father, Doc, who is a veterinarian.

Each vignette in the comic strip starts off innocently enough, but inevitably the story line evolves into more sleuthing than writing for Trail as he discovers some type of environmental wrong. Trail's travails typically lead to danger and are usually resolved when he socks somebody in the jaw and hands off the suspects to the justice system. Trail's wholesome adventures always seem to include interactions with a beautiful young woman; Cherry either doesn't know or doesn't seem to mind.

At any rate, said evildoers have dumped barrels of chemical waste into a ravine in Lost Forest. Doc notices that a few animals started mysteriously dying in the forest, and he suspects a chemical is to blame. Trail then sets out with his faithful St. Bernard, Andy, to find the possible source of the chemical, and the pair discovers the barrels.

With a bit of detective work, Trail figures out that the chemicals originated at the make-believe Williams Chemical Co. While Doc tests the contents of the barrels, Trail hustles off to the company and barges into the president's office unannounced, proclaiming that the president is "in trouble!" The president is a beautiful young woman.

At C&EN's press time, Elrod had yet to reveal how the drama ends. But if Trail holds true to character, he will win over the company president, get to the bottom of how the chemicals were illegally dumped, find the culprits, and end the adventure by punching somebody in the kisser—and perhaps get a kiss of thanks from the company president. Yup, chemistry is everywhere, even on the comics page.

Speaking of chemistry being everywhere, former president Bill Clinton was recently in the news for being named a United Nations special envoy to Haiti. It's a move to help catalyze political stability and economic recovery in one of the world's most disheveled countries.

But what didn't make the news was an international effort to provide clean DRINKING WATER for the people of Haiti, where contaminated water and lethal gastrointestinal diseases are the norm. A stable infrastructure is needed so catalyst Clinton can do his job.

In a bid to make that happen, Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit International Action has been installing water-treatment systems on community water tanks in and around the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The easily operated Bio-Dynamic potable-water systems, made by Norweco, in Norwalk, Ohio, are providing clean water for more than 400,000 people at a cost of about 25 cents per person per year.

About 10% of the water going into a large tank first runs through the chlorinator and dissolves calcium hypochlorite tablets. The chlorinated water then falls into the tank and decontaminates the rest of the water. Arch Chemicals is supplying the chlorine tablets at cost and has provided additional financial assistance.

Gone are the days when you could stick your face into a stream anywhere in the world and safely take a long, cool drink. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."

Stephen K. Ritter wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to



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