Terrible, horrible, scary UNNATURAL chemicals

flasks Except of course, they aren’t. Our world is chemicals, our life is chemistry.

This rant is brought to you by yet another TV talking head rabbiting on about

“natural remedies, not those chemical ones”

Sorry Kochie, all those natural remedies are full of chemicals too. Chemicals don’t only come from factories, where they are not created but refined from naturally occurring raw materials and recombined to form new compounds.

Chemicals are also combined, recombined, recycled and recombined again every time you, me and every other animal breathes and eats, just for starters. Chemicals also gad about when every plant respires and photosynthesises – every plant and every animal is made of chemical elements and every natural remedy consists of active ingredients that have consistent conventional chemical names e.g. vitamins

This idea that chemicals are nasty and unnatural and dangerous is rampant. Why? Is it because of the many signs and images like these?

  soldiers simulating a chemical attack

It’s as if people see HazChem signs about “dangerous chemicals” and think that the message is “dangerous CHEMICALS” instead of “DANGEROUS chemicals”. “Dangerous” is a modifier there, not an absolute descriptor – like DANGEROUS dogs, or DANGEROUS rocks, or DANGEROUS intersections, or DANGEROUS goods – everybody understands that not all dogs or rocks or intersections or goods are dangerous, so why the difference with chemicals?


Mind you, having once rolled my eyes until I got a migraine while listening to a horrendously smug motivational speaker (<= oxymoron alert) describe how he just loved "new car smell" and actually sold his cars to underlings as soon as they didn't smell that way any more, I cannot resist doing a Muntz.

new car smell

Tangent the First:
While on the topic of the Lacking of Clue, I’m not quite enough of a meanyhead to actually send the Conspicuously Clueless to this link (yet, anyway) but I have to say I love it deeply.

Tangent the Second:
While searching for images of chemicals, I also found this shot taken in an abandoned chemical factory. Straight out of Blade Runner, what?

I also found this cool shot (which I’d seen before and may have even blogged already (yonks ago) of scale models of our Solar System. The Sun and the planets are all made of chemicals too, natch.

Images credit: images on this post originally uploaded by skycaptaintwo, szlea, soldiersmediacenter and Mike Licht, made available under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Categories: education, Science

Tags: ,

16 replies

  1. ZOMG, one of my pet peeves too! There’s a chicken shop up the road that has “Chemical Free!” plastered all over it, I always want to say something about it but never do. What, no water used in this shop? I remember Penn and Teller (and many others have done it) did a thing where they got people to sign a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.

  2. Ambigulous put up a link to dhmo over at LP, too. I really should have remembered to put that in the post.

  3. Both a Green MP and a National MP in New Zealand have worried about DHMO.
    What I don’t get is the way that people who worry about wicked chemicals will happily use herbs that have known reagents (?) in varying amounts without being in the least concerned. It’s a version of the naturalistic fallacy – if it’s natural, it must be good.

  4. Both a Green MP and a National MP in New Zealand have worried about DHMO

    Oh dear. Dearie dearie me.

  5. At work, the break room fridge has a big sign that says “Food only, NO CHEMICALS”. I’ve so far resisted the urge to write on the sign “Food is made up of chemicals too”. You’d think that a company founded by and well staffed by chemists would understand this.
    Paul Tomblins last blog post..Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008

  6. I Saw A Great Need:

  7. Gah, the idea that chemicals are imbued with some kind of magical non-chemicalness when extracted from plants drives is one of my pet peeves. It’s not just that people are willing to pay top dollar for soaps and beauty products that are “chemical free” – that doesn’t hurt anyone. However, the idea that effective herbal remedies don’t have side effects because of their naturalness is a potentially dangerous assumption.

    The Sun and the planets are all made of chemicals too, natch.

    And now I have “Why Does the Sun Shine” running through my head.
    Peggys last blog post..Splice: Rock and Roll Geneticists and the Horror of Genetic Engineering

  8. My husband’s uncle was on heart medication, and at the same time he was using some herbal remedies for something-or-other. He died of a heart attack. We have no idea whether the herbals interacted badly with the medication or not – but it did seem to be a very risky thing to do.
    Deborahs last blog post..A wonderful new word – kyriarchy

  9. To Deborah: heart medication (especially blood thinning medication) has a lot of potential interactions, and if you’re on those medication you should absolutely not take herbal remedies or vitamins without consulting a pharmacist. I work in a pharmacy and lots of people throw a “why do you NEED to KNOW THAT?” tantrum when I ask them about allergies/medical conditions/medications while selling over the counter products, but there really is a good reason!

  10. YES! YES!
    I get so pissed off at people saying ‘oooh dear – it’s all just chemicals isn’t it?’
    You know what else is chemicals? YOU!

  11. Har. Try explaining to someone that you can’t make soap without lye, and that yes, that nice person with the lovely soap down at the markets was, in fact, lying to them. And that your “lye soap” (GASP) won’t rip their skin off just by being in the same room.

  12. From working at Lush my fave chemical reaction is to do with soap too, lauredhel – it’s those people who crap on about how THEIR soap “uses coconut oil, none of that crappy SLS stuff!”
    Wanna know what SLS’s (Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Laurel Sulfate) apparently are? Treated coconut palm oil.

  13. From working at Lush my fave chemical reaction is to do with soap too, lauredhel – it’s those people who crap on about how THEIR soap “uses coconut oil, none of that crappy SLS stuff!”

    Sorta depends what you mean by “soap”, I guess! Being a soaper myself, I tend to go by the pretty strict side of the definition, the sodium (or potassium) salt of a fatty acid (plus the glycerine by-product), made just by reacting dissolved lye and fat. SLS bars, to me, are detergent bars, not “soap”.
    But, yeah, that’s not an “It’s CHEMICALS!” distinction.

  14. Oh yes. The wonderful pseudo-dichotomy between “natural” and
    “artificial” our society chooses to believe in. It leads to the assumption that anything “natural” is wonderful and good (and inherently safe), while anything “artificial” is evil and bad (and inherently unsafe). How the chief propogators of this particular meme manage to reconcile things like blue-ringed octopus venom, or red-backed spider venom (both of which are incredibly “natural”, being biological secretions of living creatures) with the inherent “safety” of the natural world, or such things as cooking food, indoor plumbing, modern medications and similar with the inherent lack of safety of the artificial world, is quite beyond me.
    I will admit to buying Alchemy shampoo and conditioner, but this is mainly because I like the smell of the shampoo (I like their rosemary one – nice way to wake up in the mornings) and also I like the pump packs they come in.
    Meg Thorntons last blog post..Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargggggh!!!

  15. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! The whole “chemicals are evil” thing drives me crazy.

  16. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ‘drugs are bad, take something natural’ from naturopaths who will then give people stuff like Ephedra.
    The stupid, it burns.

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