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'Chemical' doesn't mean 'toxic' -- even for beer

By: Don Loepp

March 11, 2013

Here's one especially for the Plastics Blog readers who majored in chemical engineering and chemistry.

Dorea Reeser, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental chemistry at the University of Toronto, wrote a guest blog post for Scientific American titled "'Chemical' doesn't mean 'toxic.'"

The column is pretty funny – but it makes a serious point too. Many people — including (I'm sorry to say) the news media too frequently misuse terms like "chemical," making it synonymous with "toxic."

"Because of this chemicals are often advertised as the bane of our existence. I think everyone, even those of us who are irked by this popular misuse of the term 'chemical,' must be reminded that absolutely everything is a chemical," Reeser writes.

One of her brilliant examples: a Byron Bay, Australia, brewery that claims its Premium Ale contains "nature's finest ingredients," but "no chemicals."

No chemicals, really? I have a feeling it's going to be a little less refreshing than Plastics Blog readers would expect.

It's a serious point, though, and I would add that the term "toxic" also is very much misused, both by the general public and in much of the news media. We should all be reminded that words matter, and perhaps the best way to make the point is through a bit of humor.