Well-educated chemists for a safer society

31 March 2010

A letter to The Independent, sent 31 March 2010


The Independent should be congratulated for disclosing the alleged problem of baby bottles made with chemicals that may cause a range of health problems including breast cancer (page 1 and Life, 31 March).

However, we are disappointed that the cover of the Life section employs the headline Bad Chemistry with a large picture of the baby at the bottle. 

Chemistry on the whole is beneficial, indeed essential, to human health and in the case of babies we contribute much through baby foods, drinks, essential drugs, and materials.

Nevertheless, the combined news and feature articles do serve our own oft-repeated case, which is that if people want safer lives then we need more scientists with a rigorous education, better equipping them to challenge the status quo within commerce and industry, and to continue to ask difficult questions.

Future chemical scientists and a scientifically-knowledgeable public will come from today's pupils and we believe that in the UK the science education system places obstacles in their paths, particularly through the continual erosion of GCSE standards.

As for the chemical scientists currently in the workplace, we would mention that it was the Royal Society of Chemistry that first brought to the public's attention four years ago the problem of antimony contained in plastic water bottles, and this month we highlighted the presence of antimony in fruit juices.

So yes, there are bad chemicals as well as the thousands of good chemicals, without which humankind would be in a parlous state. 

Bad chemistry happens, through lack of understanding, non-compliance with regulations or indeed lack of regulations, but the Royal Society of Chemistry and fellow societies around the world remain vigilant and ready to act when it is discovered.

- Dr Richard Pike, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry

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