May 22 2013

The presence of a chemical is not the same as presence of risk : Soapbox Science

Dr. Schwarcz’s is currently a chemistry professor at McGill University and the Director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. He also hosts “The Dr. Joe Show” on Montreal’s CJAD and has appeared on The Discovery Channel, CBC, TV Ontario and other networks. Dr. Schwarcz has received numerous awards for his work, including the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award for demystifying chemistry and the Canadian Chemical Institute’s “Montreal Medal” recognizing his lifetime contributions to chemistry in Canada. 

“Chemical” is not a dirty word. Nor is it a synonym for “poison” or “toxin.” Chemicals are the basic building blocks of all matter and classifying them as “safe” or “dangerous” is inappropriate. But of course there are safe or dangerous ways of using chemicals. In any case, chemicals are not to be feared or worshipped, they are to be understood. And perhaps the most important point to understand is that the presence of a chemical does not equate to the presence of a risk.

Thanks to our analytical capabilities, we can now routinely detect substances down to the part per trillion (ppt) level. That’s not finding a needle in a haystack; it’s finding a needle in a world full of haystacks. At that level, we can detect a myriad of chemicals should we choose to look for them! And by selectively referencing the scientific literature, the spectra of risk can be readily raised.

Source: The presence of a chemical is not the same as presence of risk : Soapbox Science