Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Toxies

Since I will someday, within the next few decades, finally reach adulthood, I have been giving a lot of thought to my personal brand. So far this has mainly consisted of coming up with an extremely long list of band names. Most recent addition:

butt nachos

I have also been giving a lot of thought to never-before-seen-on-earth-until-the-dawn-of-the-industrial-revolution-but-mainly-since-world-war-II chemicals, that inevitably find their ways into the environment and into our bodies. Also concerned with this topic is a California-based (of course) group called CHANGE, who also seem to understand the importance of branding:

They released a list of "bad actor chemicals" and created a headshot for each chemical. I really like this triclosan one, but the rest can be found here and here.

Note: triclosan is included in many personal cleaning products, even though soap and water still work just fine. Triclosan (found in ~60% of US Waterways) and its breakdown products are linked to cancer and thyroid disruption, not to mention the looming issue of antibiotic resistance.

Included in the bad-actor list is Bisphenol-A (aka BPA), the chemical that recently caused everyone to throw their polycarbonate water bottles in the garbage.

Note: BPA mimics estrogen, throwing off the natural balance of hormones in our bodies. It is present in the urine of 93% of US residents. It has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility in men and women, early onset of puberty in girls, diabetes, and obesity, to name just a few things. Read more here. For an excellent book on endocrine disruption, check out "Our Stolen Future".

Well, it turns out that the amount of BPA that leaches out of these bottles is somewhere in the nanogram range (one billionth of a gram). That may sound bad to you, or that may sound fine to you, but what is crazy is that milligram quantities (one thousandth of a gram) of BPA can be found* in cash-register receipts (that's right), says John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. Still sound like a small amount? Well keep in mind that a milligram is a million times more than the nanogram that caused you to ditch your water bottle.

I'm not sure how the BPA receipt technology works, but one type of carbonless-copy paper technology relies on the ionization of crystal violet lactone, shown below:

The structure on the left is colorless, but the structure on the right (which can be formed in acidic environments) is very colorful due to the fact that the positive charge can be distributed throughout the molecule. Presumably** a piece of paper is coated with the molecule on the left, and the paper is struck with an acidic clay-type substance, whose protons cause the colorless molecule on the left to turn into the colored molecule on the right.

Cool, huh?!!!

* Note: findings not peer-reviewed, not that peer-review works very well in some cases (see here and here) anyhow.
** This is speculation, based on a little bit of reading, give me a break, I'm sleepy