A chemical-free world

In celebration of 2011 being the International Year of Chemistry, why not get a home chemistry set for your kids:

Chemistry kit

Photo courtesy of JAYFK

No, your eyes do not deceive you…it is a chemistry kit with no chemicals. Looking at the product description, we can see some of the 60+ fun activities possible with this kit include growing crystals, chromatography, growing plants and slime and gook. All without chemicals.

Of course this kit contains chemicals! Unless it enables you to create matter from nothing, I’m pretty sure that you will at the very least need that nasty chemical water (H2O for you budding chemists out there) for some of the fun activities listed above. I would also be shocked if you could do chromatography without using any chemicals.

So when did the word “chemical” get such negative connotations? OK, so in this case it may be an advertising phrase indicating that the product is free of industrial or synthetic chemicals, but it reinforces the idea that all chemical are evil. And that labelling a chemistry set (or any product) as “chemical-free” is a good thing.

I therefore fully support Deborah Blum‘s resolution on her Speakeasy Science blog to rid the world of the ridiculous and misleading term “chemical-free”. She succinctly describes the problem:

Folks, let’s be literal for a moment. If we don’t use chemicals on our gardens, we won’t even be able to use H20 on the plants. And if we restrict ourselves to only chemical-free food we’ll be, um, dead. Starvation tends to do that, you know.

A chemical-free world is one in which we wouldn’t exist. This pseudo-protective chemical-free propaganda does nothing to make us safer; instead, it further muddies our understanding of the legitimate risks out there. The best scientific response to this increasing nonsense is from the Royal Society of Chemistry, which last year offered £1 million to the first person to create a genuinely chemical-free product.

Unsurprisingly, they are still waiting for someone to claim the prize.

(A big thanks to the JAYFK for the initial heads-up to this product.)

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3 thoughts on “A chemical-free world

  1. Deborah Blum says:

    Thanks for supporting my “chemical-free” resolution. And for a very sharp post – I do think the Royal Society of Chemistry’s prize offer is a brilliant idea. Plus very funny.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Deborah! I thought it was a great move by the RSC; in fact, I’m going to forward your “chemical-free” resolution post to a few colleagues there.

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