One of the fictions of the “naive-greens” and other “irrationalists” is that “chemicals” are bad while natural products (non-chemicals?) are good. When asked if water is a chemical, and hence evil, and whether cyanide, nicotine or the botulism toxin, are natural and hence benign they change the subject. You might think that our classrooms are immune to such nonsense; in the November issue of Chemistry in New Zealand, Ian Millar of Carina Chemical Laboratories Ltd tells us we are wrong.

Mr Millar’s sister is a secondary school chemistry teacher and had received some official guide-lines titled “Chemical Safety Data Sheets for Teaching Laboratories” promoting the safe use of chemicals in schools. Mr Millar looked up a typical laboratory chemical to see what the data sheet had to say. Some excerpts follow:

  • Personal protection — dust respirator
  • Ventilation — extraction hood
  • Gloves — rubber or plastic
  • Eye — glasses, goggles or face shield
  • Other — plastic apron, sleeves, boots if handling large quantities
  • Disposal — dispose through local authorities if appropriate facilities are available, otherwise pass to a chemical disposal company
  • First Aid — irrigate thoroughly with water. Skin: wash off thoroughly with soap and water. Ingested: wash out mouth thoroughly with water. In severe cases obtain medical attention.

Now this chemical is clearly pretty nasty stuff and you might be thinking that it’s right and proper that our schools should be encouraging such sound practice.

But left to our own devices most of us would dispose of the stuff by throwing it into the sea — reasoning that the sea wouldn’t suffer too much damage as a result. After all this apparently dangerous chemical is nothing more than sodium chloride — better known as common salt.

Mr Miller points out that he enjoys bathing in a 3.5% solution of NaCl (the sea) and even eats it as table salt.

Can we now expect to see television chefs decked out in gloves, safety glasses, and plastic aprons, and calling in a chemical disposal company to clean up the kitchen afterwards? Should we ban children from our domestic kitchens because of the obvious risks to their health? These instructions are not only nonsense — they are dangerous nonsense. They are so ludicrous that they may well encourage people to ignore safety recommendations when handling genuinely dangerous chemicals such as cyanide or nitric acid. Or they may create a generation stricken with chemophobia.

To argue that it is good to err on the side of caution is wrong. This information is simply inaccurate. Nobody washes out their mouth after eating salt or taking in a mouthful of surf. I believe that this data sheet does not represent a simple error of judgement but unfortunately reflects an ideology which holds that all “chemicals” are bad and destructive of life and the environment.

I might have taken some comfort from the belief that whatever has been happening to the teaching of English, history, or anthropology, the objectivity of the process of science would make it immune to such victim-promoting political correctness. Could parents among our membership find out if the government’s chemical police have decided that NaCl is a politically incorrect “chemical” and needs all these precautions, while “Sea-Salt” is a “natural” product which can be used with safety?

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