Dear Larry:

My apologies for getting back to you with a delay.  It is OPEN ENROLLMENT season and I am thinking of changing my University of California health plan.  I am sure you and some others on this list have had the pleasure of dealing with comparing health plans and deciding which one will "fit" your needs and ability to pay.  What a delightful experience is health care market--so transparent to all "economic agents." 

Thank you very much for your considered response to my inquiry.  One thing we can take away from it.  This is an opinion piece written for an American daily--admittedly with a more sophisticated reader.  If you (a chemist) and I (a lay person with advanced degrees and some science background) cannot "weigh in" it poses a problem for Science for the People--how can we make expert decision making tangible for the public if the public should weigh in on policy aspects of the problem at hand?  With scientific and technological paste of development and subs-specialization would there ever be a bottom-up democratically run society?  Of course, the problem is not limited to science--it extends to all kinds of fields of knowledge.  Can there be a true democratic society in a highly complex society? 

Best regards,



On Mon, Nov 10, 2014 at 6:26 PM, Romsted, Laurence <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I would love to have the expertise to weigh in on this issue—but I don’t.  Expertise in this case means a strong understanding about toxicology of the particular compounds being considered.  I know very little toxicology.  Big dictum in the lab:  Don’t eat anything, including your lunch in the lab.

So, without expertise, I think one of the most interesting things they brought up in the NYT article was evaluating compounds by reactive group class.  Pesticides and herbicides for example have different type of reactive groups on them.  When a new poison is discovered, synthetic chemists synthesize all kinds of structurally similar molecules with the hope of increasing the specificity of the compound for an application (e.g., killing an insect) and make it as non poisonous to people and the environment as possible (in principle).

One problem is that really toxic stuff is toxic to everything because living things to do have resistance.  The chemistry of some toxic molecules are by the type of reactive group, so the chlorine and bromine containing compounds that they were discussing have chlorine and bromine as groups that are easy to displace, ergo, reactive.  DDT.  ethylene dibromide.  Ethylene dibromide does not last too long in nature, but DDT lingers.  Non natural, not nice molecules.

Green chemists try to use non poisonous starting materials and water as a solvent (many organic solvents are dangerous themselves) especially chlorinated molecules (e.g., dry cleaning fluids). 

But I only know some loose generalizations, not specifics.  I would have to study lots to become an expert.


From: Kamran Nayeri <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Monday, November 10, 2014 at 1:59 PM
To: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Making Chemicals Green

Dear Folks:

I just read this New York Times Op-Ed commentary (see below for a link). It does seem to me that given what we know the authors are pointing out some of the problems and offering good first steps.  However, I am no chemist and like to know what Larry and others think about the subject.  Any sources that offer better insight into this problem would be much appreciated.