Wednesday, January 5, 2011

another Nature article that needs mentioning: this time, Green Chemistry

While you're reading from Nature, don't miss this well-written article about Green Chemistry. 

drug design, drug abuse

Nature is publicly sharing a column by medicinal chemist David Nichols this week:  you can find it here.

It is a personal and sad commentary on how scientists involved in synthetic chemistry, who work to increase understanding of diseases and develop new drugs to treat or cure them, may inadvertently end up supporting the development of new street drugs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

pointing fingers

KTVZ reports tonight that the water tested by EWG was from a private water company, Avion Water, rather than the City of Bend.  You can read the news report here.

I commend the local reporters for doing a good job with a scientific topic, but I hope they find a source who is not invested in the outcome of the testing.  Avion Water, the City, and the ACC aren't going to be able to persuade me of much, because each could be reasonably expected to want this little problem to just go away.  It's possible the EWG has some other complicating interest, too, beyond public health. 

It's not time to panic, but we need to attend to this.  Preliminary experiments indicate we might have a problem.  That's all EWG has shown us.  There is a serious shortage of data and a compelling case for more testing, now.

Time to go back to the lab!  Water from all over town should be collected and tested, using EWG's more sensitive testing method, so that we can have an informed discussion.

Monday, December 20, 2010


The community of Bend is pretty darned proud of our wonderful tap water.  It really is amazing quality stuff, tasteless, odorless and about as wet as any water you could find anywhere.  Even more remarkable, to someone who doesn't come from this part of the world, is that such wonderful stuff could come tapped into our homes with very little processing.

There has been some local chatter about potential upgrades to our current water system, especially the part of the supply that comes from the Bridge Creek drainage.  That portion of our local water is surface water, which means that there is some potential for it to be contaminated from the surface.  With some pressure mounting, it looks like that system is going to have to undergo some upgrades in the near future.

And then comes this news:  the Environmental Working Group has tested water in 35 municipal supplies and has found chromium-6 in 31 of them, including in Bend (which tests at 0.78 ppb).  What does this mean for us?  It's too early to know, but it certainly is a call for more and better testing, and additional information for us locals about the sources and consequences of having it in our water at the current level.

The presence of chromium-6 from natural sources is a possibility, but I do find it a little concerning that this notice doesn't come with immediate access to the sort of maps of those deposits that we might want.  I wonder if anyone tracks this sort of thing?  It seems like it would be an easy thing to do, and that testing for natural contaminants of concern (like chromium, or arsenic, or fluoride in high concentrations) would be standard procedure when establishing new wells or other water supplies.

The statements from the ACC are also not very helpful, and also add to my discomfort with the lack of information flowing to us.

How do we compare to the other cities tested?  The graph about halfway down the page (titled "Chromium-6 levels in 25 cities’ tap water exceed safe limit proposed by California officials*"), in the original report, is pretty striking, and disturbing.

Monday, November 29, 2010

SoCMA, ACC, and more....about the potential for a Green Chemistry standard

Advancing Green Chemistry shares with us an article detailing the current discussion--or is it a squabble?-- about establishing a standard for Green Chemistry.  There are a lot of very powerful people interested in the outcome of this discussion, it appears!  Important people are listening and participating.  But there also appears to be some potential for gridlock as these groups try to find a standard that is good for everyone.

A variety of stakeholders care about the outcome of this discussion.  The public is of course one group that may benefit from a clear and rigorous standard.  It would make it easier for us to make greener choices without having to draw on a great deal of technical expertise (which few of us have).  On the other hand, industry is likely to strongly resist any standard which is going to give some products a competitive advantage over others.  AGC discusses this problem at some length.  But it's good reading.

One of the great strengths of the Green Chemistry community is its inclusiveness.  It bring all kinds of perspectives to the table.  When people with differing viewpoints find themselves working on a problem together, the opportunity to innovate for real change is more likely.  But the solutions that these various groups can agree to are rare, and difficult to discover.

It's good and difficult work, and we'll hope that the outcome brings us a step forward. 

Advancing Green Chemistry keeps a close eye on the chemical industry (ACC is an acronym we all ought to know), and provide frequent updates on issues interesting to the Green Chemistry community through their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

fourteen.4 grams

Based on some serious Google research and with the help of my Introductory Chem class, I have determined that the 15.0 lb turkey cooked at my house yesterday contained a grand total of 14.4 grams of tryptophan. 

While the debate continues on the streets and at the water cooler about the biological effects of consuming a hefty portion of roast bird, there are a lot of other good reasons to get a nap on Thanksgiving afternoon. 

Turkey is not exceptionally high in tryptophan compared to some other fairly common foods, which leaves me wondering how the tryptophan story ever got off the ground in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

spinning vinyl

My collection of vinyl records still sits in my living room under a coffee table, though I haven't played them in years.  I have a turntable and a component system that is old enough to play them but it's just too much work, and a lot of the music I have is not interesting to me anymore.

I expect I would encounter some trouble if I tried to play them anyhow, since many of them were made when records were stamped on thin vinyl, which would warp over time if not occasionally rotated.  Letting them sit on one side for years could have caused some major problems.

I spent a lot of time as an adolescent listening to records, so just talking about them gets me feeling a little nostalgic. 

LP (long play) records like this are called vinyl because they are made from polyvinyl chloride.  Vinyl chloride is CH2CHCl, an alkene with a chlorine attached to the sp2-hybridized carbon, aka the vinyl position.  Addition reactions can be used to produce polymers which often end up bearing the names of their raw materials, or suggestions of what those raw materials are:  polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE), and polystyrene (PS) are all made from alkenes, through addition reactions that cause them to polymerize.

Organic students may recognize, if they think of it, that after forming a carbocation in an addition reaction one could imagine another molecule of the original alkene behaving as a nucleophile...the double bond itself is rich in electron density.  This is the underlying principle of the addition polymerization reactions that allow us to make all these different plastics.

Wikipedia has relatively informative articles on LP records, and on vinyl chloride.  PVC is not very environmentally friendly if you consider the problems that come along with handling the vinyl chloride monomer which it is made of, though some have argued it is very environmentally friendly precisely because it lasts so long--and often is used in applications to replace wood, or other plastics with shorter lifespans.

A few years ago a great (but admittedly biased) documentary about PVC was put out by Bullfrog Films.  You can watch the trailer here, and it's in our College Library.  It's worth your time and presents the serious problems associated with PVC with great humor.  And you know what's funny and ironic?  The videocasette that the film is on is probably made guessed it:  PVC.