Better living without chemistry?

My latest article for my Sounds Sciencey column is about chemistry. Or, more precisely, how it is viewed by the public.

There is this thing you might see on labels of products ranging from baby health goods to fertilizer: “CHEMICAL FREE”. But what does that even mean? I say it’s meaningless and is harmful for consumers.

Over the last 4 decades, the idea of chemistry has gotten a terrible reputation. People just don’t like chemicals. Yet, they certainly don’t understand that EVERYTHING we eat or drink or use in our showers or on our bodies is made of chemicals. Everything we use or wear is derived from a chemical process. To be without chemistry is to not exist. Our bodies run on chemistry.

The word “chemical” has been hijacked to mean “toxic”. And “toxic chemicals” has become a buzz word for environmental and health movements against everything from fracking to vaccines. That’s dangerous. In order to be an informed consumer and citizen, when talking science terms, you need to understand what you are actually advocating for or against. When you say “toxic chemicals,” what science-trained ears perceive from you is “this person is not scientifically literate”.

So, I advocate not to fall into the hype of “chemical-free”. Check out my piece and see how we got here as a society and what can be done about it.

Bad Reaction: The Toxicity of Chemical-Free Claims


2 thoughts on “Better living without chemistry?

  1. This relates to my pet peeve of seeing “all natural” on food labels. Most people assume that it means unprocessed but the FDA doesn’t really define the term. Unfortunately very little of what we eat is unprocessed so the label “all natural” is just an advertising gimmick.

  2. This is one of my hot buttons too Sharon. The colossal ignorance of most people regarding chemistry, and all things science really, has left them incapable of judging degrees of risk. Absent that discernment all risks are shaded the same scary color. This is now being compounded by the natural food/product industry which actually has a vested interest in spreading and maintaining that level of ignorance.

Comments are closed.