BPA Craziness
Mar03

BPA Craziness

The sad saga of bisphenol A (BPA) and food containers reveals much about what is wrong with some environmentalists today. C&EN has covered the health concerns associated with BPA extensively for several years. We have covered the reports of the National Toxicology Program on the health effects of BPA and the Food & Drug Administration’s difficult balancing act in regulating human exposure to the chemical. C&EN has also covered the chemistry that makes it difficult to eliminate all uses of BPA associated with food. Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby, for example, wrote in the Dec. 15, 2008, issue (page 31) that “for many food applications, for example, in the metal-packaging industry, finding a new material with just the right combination of properties remains a major challenge” because “the materials used to coat food cans must adhere strongly, provide corrosion resistance, and withstand the high temperatures required for sterilization and processing. The coating also has to be compatible chemically with the food and cannot impart a flavor or odor.” BPA has all of these characteristics; most potential alternatives do not. Last year, Senior Editor Melody Voith addressed this issue as well (July 20, 2009, page 28). “Linings made with BPA give a wide range of canned goods their long shelf life and good food safety record,” Voith wrote. “Without any lining, a typical aluminum or steel can creates a strong air and light barrier all by itself. But eventually, contact between the food and the metal will corrode the packaging, leading to spoilage or microbial contamination. Corrosion would rapidly ruin high-acid foods, such as tomatoes. Low-acid foods like peas may last longer but are more likely to harbor toxin-producing bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum.” Alternatives to BPA-based linings do not perform as well and/or are significantly more expensive. The fact is that the evidence linking BPA with adverse health effects is weak. Many studies have been carried out, and the results have been contradictory. This is why FDA has acted cautiously with regard to BPA and why the chemical and food-packaging industries resist stringent regulation of it. FDA announced earlier this year that it has “some concern” about the potential health effects of BPA in infants and children, but also said that more research is needed to fully assess the safety of the chemical (C&EN, Jan. 25, page 8). Market pressure, however, has effectively removed BPA from products such as baby bottles, so that’s no longer an issue. Nevertheless, the drumbeat against BPA continues. Once suspicion of any kind has been leveled against the safety of a chemical, watch out. No amount of contrary evidence will ever convince some chemophobic environmentalists...

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First Impressions Of Pittcon–Part 3
Mar02

First Impressions Of Pittcon–Part 3

C&EN’s full coverage of Pittcon 2010 will appear in the March 29 issue. In that issue, C&EN reporters Celia Arnaud, Stu Borman, Mitch Jacoby, and Steve Ritter will synthesize the four-day scientific and exhibition fest on instrumentation/analytics in highlights of product introductions, technical sessions, and industry trends. Their stories will be C&EN’s definitive take on Pittcon. What I am posting are my mere musings. We just finished from the first ever C&EN luncheon at Pittcon, attended by 100 guests. Not a bad crowd, considering that Tuesday is the second day of the exhibition. Our luncheon guest speakers were Frank Witney, president and CEO of Dionex, and Greg Herrema, senior vice president and president of analytical instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Both made a strong case of the complexity of analytical challenges in the 21st century, as well as the ability of the instrumentation/analytics to develop new methods and tools to meet these challenges. So far so good. At Q&A period, though, not one person in the audience asked a question. What’s with that? Are people too busy, shy, wary to participate? Any ideas about how to encourage discussion during a luncheon? Altogether, the luncheon was fine. As moderator, I asked a question with several follow ups that I think the speakers and the audience appreciated. I’m still figuring out zeta potential, but I have to catch my flight back to Washington, DC now. Photo credit (both): Peter Cutts...

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First Impressions at Pittcon—Part 2
Mar02

First Impressions at Pittcon—Part 2

As I said yesterday, what Frank O’Connor of Heidolph Brinkmann is really excited about is Demo for Donations, which the company will implement at the ACS national meeting in San Francisco on March 21-25. According to O’Connor, Demo for Donations works like this: Meeting attendees sign up for a product demonstration at Heidolph’s booth, #1110, and Heidolph will contribute $10 per sign up to the Red Cross earthquake relief fund for Haiti. Instead of mints, ballpens, or any of the usual freebie trinkets at exhibitions to get people to stop at their booth, Heidolph believes that Demo for Donations will attract more traffic because, as O’Connor’s explains, it offers attendees “a way to give something back to the community.” I warned O’Connor that the San Francisco might attract more than 12,000 people, and Heidolph could be deluged with sign ups. O’Connor’s expectations are conservative, about 1,500. Well, ACS national meeting attendees, perhaps you can help O’Connor exceed expectations. Again the place to do something good for Haiti in San Francisco is booth #1110. From Heidolph, I next visited Wyatt Technologies. They’re excited about a new instrument that measures something related to zeta potential and has a key application in protein drug formulation. I’ll tell more about this advance in Part 3. Right now I have to understand what zeta potential is. Can anyone...

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First Impressions At Pittcon
Mar01

First Impressions At Pittcon

For Pittcon 2010, the Orange County Convention Center is in its full glory. It’s one of the most beautiful convention centers in the county, said Annette Wilson, president of Pittcon 2010, at the opening ceremonies this morning, and I agree. It looks gorgeous from the outside. It is also huge, so huge that despite hosting more than 2,000 booths, more than 1000 exhibitors, and more than 2,000 technical papers, Pittcon occupies only the West Section. Advance registration totals more than 14,000. I’ve had interesting conversations since the first function I attended, the Waters Symposium Dinner last night. There I met James A. de Haseth, a senior partner of a company based in Georgia called Light Light Solutions. It makes instruments that help analyze fibers as they are processed for various uses, including as alternatives to glass. De Haseth tells me the company is working with Canadian groups that are interested in natural fibers such as flax as superstrong, superlight materials for industrial applications. Another interesting conversation was with Patricia A. Bordell, Pittcon’s chair for shortcourses. She works with the College Board, the organization best known for the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program. Bordell goes around the country and the world to train teachers who teach AP and pre-AP chemistry. The push now by the College Board, she says, is to train chemistry teachers to apply inquiry-based learning in pre-college chemistry classrooms. I have not been to a Pittcon since three years ago, and I find it pleasing that the familiar hallmarks of Pittcon are still around, such as the trays of apples in the exhibit area and the shuttles that go back and forth the center aisle to move attendees from one end of the exhibition area to the other. I did remember to bring comfortable shoes. At the exhibition hall, the people I talked to give the impression of optimism. First up was Kristof O’Connor, product manager of Heidolph Brinkmann LLC, a manufacturer of such staple laboratory equipment as rotary evaporators and magnetic stirrers. Heidolph did “well during the recession,” O’Connor tells C&EN, “exceeding sales expectations by 3.5%.” Heidolph’s attitude, O’Connor explains, was to work with customers within their budgets–so if a customer bought a second-hand equipment, Heidolph will help them make it work–with the hope when money becomes available and customers are ready to make new purchases, they would go back to Heidolph. Heidolph saw a significant effect of the Obama Administration’s stimulus money, O’Connor says, with increased business from beneficiaries of NIH and NSF largesse, military research facilities, public universities, and companies in the alternative-fuel business. Demand for evaporators was high from companies trying to...

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Science And Public Policy
Feb03

Science And Public Policy

Critics of this page frequently argue that C&EN’s editor-in-chief should comment only on matters concerning chemistry or the chemical industry. There is no place, they argue, in the American Chemical Society’s newsmagazine for commentary on public policies about which ACS members might disagree. The magazine, in fact, should stay out of public policy issues altogether, in the view of some of these critics. The stories in this week’s issue of C&EN illustrate why this criticism is unrealistic in today’s world. The first seven department stories—from the cover story to both stories in the Business Department, both stories in the Government & Policy Department, the single story in the Science & Technology Department, and even the first story in the ACS News Department—all deal with issues that have a public policy component to them. Science and technology and public policy are inextricably linked in modern societies. For example, the cover story, “Fluorochemicals Go Short” by Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter, is a comprehensive examination of the development of a policy for dealing with two particularly persistent long-chain perfluoroalkyl compounds: PFOS and PFOA. As an interim measure, chemical companies, with EPA’s blessing, are replacing PFOS and PFOA with compounds with shorter perfluoroalkyl chain groups that impart the same functional properties as the longer chain compounds. “Although the alternatives are just as persistent, they aren’t as bioaccumulative and appear to have a better toxicity profile—which is still being confirmed by testing—and are thus considered sound replacements,” Ritter writes. This is not a trivial public policy issue. Fluorocarbons are extremely useful. Ritter quotes David W. Boothe, global business manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts, who says: “The societal benefits of fluoroproducts—boosting gas mileage in cars while cutting air emissions, adding durability to clothing, improving semiconductor and communications cable performance, and increasing fire-fighting speed—help consumers save money and make products safer, last longer, and environmentally friendlier.” Nevertheless, in January 2006, DuPont and seven other major PFOA producers and users agreed with EPA that PFOA had to go. What Ritter chronicles is the scientific, technological, and public policy challenges that stemmed from this decision. This is a success story that should be applauded. A regulatory agency and chemical producers and users can work together to protect the environment. The second story in the Business Department, by Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch, is also a success story, but perhaps a bit more controversial than Ritter’s. Reisch examines the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a CO2 cap-and-trade program that has operated for more than a year in the northeastern U.S., generating $500 million in 2009 for energy-saving projects in the 10 states involved. The program has its critics, Reisch notes, quoting...

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Celebrating ACS Scholars
Jan26

Celebrating ACS Scholars

The American Chemical Society Scholars Program celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2010. The program awards renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 per year to underrepresented minority students who want to enter chemistry or chemical engineering or related fields such as environmental science, toxicology, and chemical technology. As part of the 15th anniversary celebration, C&EN is launching in this issue a series of profiles of current and former ACS Scholars. The profiles will run in the last issue of each month. The first profile is of Steven W. Meier, who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, an American Indian tribe with its headquarters in Shawnee, Okla. (see page 41). Meier was an ACS Scholar at Rice University. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Rice, went on to receive his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University, and is now at ExxonMobil R&D in Annandale, N.J. Through the year, C&EN will tell 12 of these inspirational stories. There are many, many more. The ACS Scholars Program, which won the 2001 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring and the 1997 American Society of Association Executives Award of Excellence, has aided more than 1,900 students since its inception. African Americans comprise 55% of the recipient pool, Hispanic/Latino students represent 39%, and Native American students represent 6%. To date, more than 900 students receiving scholarships have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a chemical science, and 48% have entered the chemical science workforce. Thirty-six percent of the students majored in chemistry; 36%, chemical engineering; 13%, biochemistry; and 10%, a chemistry-related discipline. More than 60 ACS Scholars have gone on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, chemical engineering, or a related discipline. Eligibility requirements for ACS Scholars and other information on the program can be found at www.acs.org under “Funding & Awards.” Madeleine Jacobs, ACS executive director and chief executive officer, says of the program: “The ACS Scholars Program has had enormous impact in only 15 years in literally changing the face of the chemistry enterprise. Since the program’s inception, $12.2 million in scholarships have been awarded, plus ACS has provided all the administrative support. When I look at the success stories of our hundreds of ACS Scholars and the Ph.D.s the program has produced, I know that this success would not have been possible without the tremendous support of the ACS Board of Directors, which committed significant funding and moral support to launching and sustaining the program, as well as the generous contributions of companies, foundations, ACS members, and other individuals. This is a program of which we can all be very proud.” Mentoring is...

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