Thursday, April 12, 2012

Environmentally Friendly… to Whom?

ChemDAQ’s own Richard Warburton* recently had a paper published in Infection Control Today, the January 13th, 2012 edition. In this article, Richard points out that many people consider chemicals that are safe for the environment are obviously safe for general use. While this may be true for many compounds such as sugar which is generally benign except to our waistlines, Richard argues that an environmentally toxic chemical is one that is persistent in the environment (think DDT or mercury).

In contrast a chemical which is highly reactive is hazardous because of this reactivity but it is environmentally benign because it reacts so quickly that it disappears quickly. He gives the example of pouring either a solution of a cadmium salt or 30% hydrogen peroxide on to the ground. The hydrogen peroxide will fizz and froth and be gone in a few hours, but the cadmium may still be at detectable levels twenty years later in nearby water wells.

The take-home message is not to say that persistent chemicals cannot be harmful; some definitely are, but rather to illustrate that because a chemical product is labeled ‘green’ or ‘environmentally safe’ it doesn’t mean it is necessarily safe for those exposed to it.

* P. Richard Warburton, PhD, JD, is Chief Technology Officer and General Counsel at ChemDAQ Inc.

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