Letters to the Editor
C&EN’s portrayal of women
I was dismayed by the caption under the photograph of the Berkeley-Novartis drug discovery researchers (C&EN, April 23, page 24). The caption indicates “First row, from left” and lists the names of five male researchers named in the story. But the photo clearly shows seven people in the front row!
The last two are women. Their omission from this caption normalizes the invisible status of women in science. It gives readers permission to think, ‘Oh, they’re just women—not important,’ as so many other portrayals of scientists likewise give permission. Perhaps it is indeed not important to the story exactly who they are—the people in several other rows of the photo are not named either—but to caption the photo as if this list of five names describes the entire first row is simply insulting. Many more inclusive ways to caption this photo come to mind, such as “Project leaders ABCDE stand in the front row (from left), joined by 31 other team members.” You can do better.
I am writing to express my disappointment in the C&EN photo spread “Scenes from the ACS National Meeting in New Orleans” (April 2, page 34). Even after all the reporting about sexual harassment in the field of chemistry, your photo spread shows two women chemists partying and wearing masks, one woman chemist playing with Magic Nuudles, and directly beneath this, a male chemist explaining his work at a poster session. Why did you need two photos of women chemists playing? Why could you not have portrayed a woman chemist showcasing her work? This type of reporting just reinforces stereotypes that women chemists can be ignored and do not need to be taken seriously.
I’ve read with interest the B. E. Erickson article about the extended exemption of farmers and ranchers from reporting hazardous air emissions to federal agencies (C&EN, April 2, page 28). This is a serious matter: The toxicity of hydrogen sulfide is comparable with that of carbon monoxide. It is a broad-spectrum poison, but it most affects the nervous system, while exposure to very high concentrations of gaseous ammonia can result in lung damage and death in humans and aquatic animals; even at dilute concentrations, ammonia is highly toxic, and for this reason it is classified as dangerous for the environment (source: Wikipedia). So it appears that whether ammonia and hydrogen sulfide should be monitored and reported at the federal level is not as important as removing those toxic gases from the air to protect both people and animals.
Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in the farm air originate from the soil and have to be replenished with fertilizers for the plants to grow. Chemical fertilizers contain urea, superphosphate, mono and dibasic ammonium phosphates, calcium ammonium nitrate, and potassium chloride. The ammonia used as a feedstock for all other nitrogen fertilizers is produced by an energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process in which methane and air are usually the sources of hydrogen and the nitrogen, respectively. So it would make sense to return ammonia and sulfur from the farm emissions to the soil by the shortest route to close the cycle.
Technology for scrubbing ammonia from farm air with acids—for example, with H3PO4—already exists and was field-tested, for example, back in 2013—see articles.extension.org/pages/67663/development-of-an-acid-scrubber-for-reducing-ammonia-emissions-from-animal-rearing-facilities. Hydrogen sulfide can be reacted with hydrogen peroxide, and the technology is also available—for example, “Design and Scale-Up of an Oxidative Scrubbing Process for the Selective Removal of Hydrogen Sulfide from Biogas” was published in 2012 (J. Hazard. Mater., DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2012.02.028). If the sources of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions were gathered in a confined space (like a manure composter), then the combination of such technologies to remove dangerous chemicals from the air and convert them back to fertilizers could not only reduce the emissions to non-noxious levels and protect health but would also provide some economic benefit. This might be a better incentive than just fines for exceeding the government-imposed limits and definitely provide a more beneficial solution for farmworkers and those living in close proximity of the farms.