Green Chemistry Co-Founder Boxed In By Formaldehyde Politics
Oct16

Green Chemistry Co-Founder Boxed In By Formaldehyde Politics

Paul Anastas, co-founder of Green Chemistry, has hit a plywood wall. Not literally. But Anastas, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head EPA’s Office of Research & Development, is stuck in a political sticky wicket. And it’s not of his own making. Anastas directs the Yale Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering and is former director of ACS's Green Chemistry Institute. He was seen as a non-controversial shoo-in to lead EPA’s R&D effort. The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee easily approved his nomination in July and sent his name to the full Senate for a vote. Then an unnamed senator sent the Anastas nomination into limbo through an arcane procedural move called a “hold.” The Senate can’t vote on whether to confirm Anastas until the lawmaker lifts that hold. Inside the Beltway observers were scratching their heads over who had slapped a hold on Anastas and why. But the New Orleans Times Picayune followed the smell of formaldehyde offgassing from pressed board in FEMA-supplied trailers housing survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Reporter Jonathan Tilove confirmed that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had placed the hold on the nomination. Vitter’s move had nothing to do with Anastas’ record or qualifications, Tilove found. Instead, it has to do with Tilove calls the politics of formaldehyde. This has everything to do with EPA's new risk assessment of formaldehyde, a task that the agency has been busy on for many years and is nearly done with. Vitter wants the agency to send its assessment to the National Academy of Sciences for review before finalizing it. Such a move would delay, for two or three years, completion of the assessment. And the assessment would serve as the basis for a planned EPA regulation to limit the amount of formaldehyde that pressed wood products could offgas. Backing Vitter’s call for NAS review is the Formaldehyde Council, an industry group of formaldehyde producers and users. They include manufacturers of pressed wood products like plywood and particleboard, some of which are held together with a glue containing formaldehyde. In its web site, the council describes health risks of formaldehyde this way: “Formaldehyde like sunlight is necessary to life, it occurs naturally and we can not live without it. At higher exposures, it is an irritant. Too much sunlight, you get sunburned. Too much formaldehyde, your eyes water, your nose runs.” Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans. EPA’s 1991 risk assessment of formaldehyde, which the agency is currently revising, ranks formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. Among Vitter’s campaign contributors are the American Forest & Paper Association, according to the Federal...

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Google Mashes Up Earth & Climate
Sep22

Google Mashes Up Earth & Climate

Google is entering the global political debate on climate change. The internet search engine today unveiled a mashup of Google Earth and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Called Google Earth Climate, this interactive Web tool lets users explore the IPCC projections of what would happen to average temperatures and precipitation in various regions of the world between now and 2100. The application has two different possibilities -- a “high emissions scenario” (the world burns coal and fossil fuels at an expanding rate) or a “low emissions scenario” (countries switch to forms of energy that release little or no carbon dioxide). The two emissions scenarios are a bit hard to follow onscreen, especially when they run uninterrupted. But the various buttons provided in the tool allow a viewer to slow down the action, navigate around the world, and even turn the virtual globe. It’s pretty clear where Google stands on the issue of climate change. It chose Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore' to narrate the video introducing the tool. Google launched the application as world leaders gathered at the UN to discuss a new climate change treaty. Though the accord is supposed be completed in December at a meeting in Copenhagen, negotiations have bogged down in recent months. I'll be covering the Copenhagen meeting for C&EN. IMAGE: Google Lat Long...

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Plan B for Climate Change
Sep02

Plan B for Climate Change

If the governments of the world can’t get their act together and cut greenhouse gas emissions soon, the world will need plan B. That backup plan, according to a report this week from the Royal Society, is for science to help save the day through geoengineering. This includes technologies that suck carbon dioxide out of the air. Or perhaps shading the Earth’s surface from the sun’s rays by spewing aerosols into the stratosphere. Slashing emissions is the number one way to address climate change, the Society reaffirms. But if political talks on reducing emissions get stuck – and they very well might – geoengineering will be the only game left in town to fend off serious global warming. Every geoengineering technique carries risks for people and the planet, the report warns. But some are better than others. Technologies that strip carbon dioxide out of the air get the best marks in the report. There’s a catch, of course. So far, no method except the planting of trees can lock away atmospheric CO2 cost-effectively. And only so much land on Earth can grow trees. Ranking next among geoengineering techniques according to the Society, are technologies to block sunlight, such as giant, space-based mirrors. These could lower surface temperatures quickly. But they won’t do a darn thing about other key effects of a rising CO2 level -- notably the increasing acidity of oceans and the havoc it would wreak on ocean ecosystems. Other geoengineering schemes got a “lower potential” rating from the Society. One is adding fertilizer to the ocean to stimulate algal growth -- in hopes of increasing photosynthesis to extract more CO2 out of the air. Not proven effective, the report says of this technology, and “high potential for unintended and undesirable ecological side effects” Some geoengineering ideas are duds, the report finds, such as installing reflectors in the desert in an attempt to mirror light back into space. The Society smacked down an idea touted by U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu – painting roofs white. While painting roofs white can save on energy for air conditioning, adopting them for geoengineering purposes, like deploying reflectors in deserts, is, the report says, ineffective and...

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Climate Editorial Buzz Continues
Aug21

Climate Editorial Buzz Continues

The verbal tempest over C&EN Editor-in-chief Rudy Baum’s June 22 editorial on climate change has caught the attention of the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. Forum editor Bud Ward points out that Baum is not just under attack by some ACS members. He's also in the crosshairs of climate change skeptic Marc Morano. Morano is a former communications aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a lawmaker who has portrayed predictions of human-induced climate change as the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” In his blog for the the conservative group Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, Morano headlined an entry as "Climate Revolt: World's Largest Science Group 'Startled' By Outpouring of Scientists Rejecting Man-Made Climate Fears! Clamor for Editor to Be Removed!" Yale's Ward asked Baum whether the barrage of critical letters could have stemmed from an organized effort: “I do suspect there was some coordination” behind the critical letters, Baum said, but he rejects any suggestions that the mailings had been “ginned-up.” He commented that when he replied to one writer that he would not publish a particular letter, he received four complaints about his decision within an hour or so. “So there was clearly some communications going on among the folks who were writing.” (Baum says he eventually published the letter, by an ACS non-member, in any event.) Read Ward's article...

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Chemists A-Twitter About The Meeting #ACS_DC
Aug18

Chemists A-Twitter About The Meeting #ACS_DC

Attendees at the ACS national meeting are posting scores of entries each day on Twitter, the 140-character social networking site. I’m tracking these tweets (Twitter posts). I’m using the search term (known in Twitter parlance as the hashtag) for the meeting, which is #ACS_DC. Check it out! Some tweets are personal observations that mirror the experience of hundreds of people at the meeting. Here’s one from Twitter user aurenta, who describes herself as “geeky teacher gal:” I am completely tired out! #acs_dc has taken all of my energy. Did get swag, though mostly posters. NASA totebag! The green cloth bag sporting NASA’s logo seems to be the prize give-away at the exposition. Other tweeps (Twitter users) have commented about communications technology in the hands of chemists. Here’s one from willandbeyond: How it is possible that people can still forget to turn off their cell phones at talks? They need a faraday cage in the auditoriums. In a similar vein, the magazine ChemistryWorld observed: Worth noting that some academics haven’t yet learnt how to make power point presentations readable. Others pass on tidbits garnered from the events they’re attending. For instance, pencehe, whose Twitter profile describes him as “retired chem prof who often wanders off the reservation,” posted a number of tweets, including this one: D.P.Pursell reported on his work with organic flash cards sent to his students cell phones. 24/7 opportunity to review organic. Not surprisingly, many meeting-related tweets are emanating from within ACS. The national meeting has its own ID -- ACSNatlMtg – as does the press office -- ACSpressroom. The Journal of the American Chemical Society is J_A_C_S , which is tweeting presentations with meaty chemistry postings like these: Beta-amino acids adopt traditional secondary and tertiary structures, but are not found in natural proteins. Heavy atoms + fluorophores + phioto x-linkers (oh my!) -- non-natural a-amino acids incorporated into native proteins. Sponsors of booths at the Expo are also busy on Twitter encouraging attendees to stop by and learn of their product, see demonstrations of equipment, enter a drawing, or just say hello. Finally, I’m giving a big shout-out to SOCMA (the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates) for tweeting about C&ENtralScience coverage of the...

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