Misplaced Fear

Over the past few years, I’ve seen an increase in the fear of “exposure” to “harmful” and “dangerous” “chemicals.”  I’m a synthetic chemist by training, so I’ve looked on with an amused eye at the dread some people have over a possible part per trillion exposure to a “dangerous” chemical.

I will say one thing:  that fear of chemicals is misplaced.

You have a higher chance of getting hit by a car or struck by lightning (or seeing the French win a modern war without surrendering) than getting cancer from that one time you might have been exposed to a compound that is a suspected carcinogen.

Now, among most synthetic organic and inorganic chemists the black-humor joke is:  “It’s not IF you get cancer, it’s WHEN.”  Usually the WHEN never comes, and if cancer does develop, it’s usually unrelated to the chemicals you’ve been exposed to.

Besides, researchers STILL don’t know what actually causes cancer to “turn on.”

As an anecdote:  I know second-hand of at least THREE old-school Professors that used to wash their hands with Benzene before eating/going to teach, and they’re still going strong into their late 70s.

So yeah, I doubt you’ll be able to tick off more than five on the below list (and these are all 99% pure, reagent grade stuff.  So no counting your Mom’s/Sister’s/GF’s nail polish remover).

———–

Stuff I’ve been exposed to in my lab career (short list):

Solvents

Acetonitrile

Benzene

Chlorobenzene

Hexane

Pentane

Diethyl ether

Tetrahydrofuran

Pyridine

Methylene chloride (and its deuterated version)

Chloroform (and its deuterated version)

Carbon tetrachloride

Methanol

Ethanol

Diglyme

Glyme

Toluene

Ethyl acetate (smells like apples)

Acetone

1,2-dichloroethane

Petroleum ether

Hydrogen Peroxide

Acids

Hydrochloric acid (HCl, fried the inside of my nose with its gas)

Acetic acid

Hydrobromic acid (HBr)

Nitric acid

[H(OEt)2][B[3,5-(CF3)2C6H3]4](Also known as HBArF)

Bis(triflamide)

Adipic acid

Organics (short list of the short list, without dredging up my notebooks)

1,5-cyclooctadiene

Dicyclopentadiene (and it’s monomer)

chlorodiphenylphosphine

Various prepared phosphines

Aniline

Various substituted benzenes (aldehydes, ethers, alcohols, alkyls, alkenyls, alkynyls, halogens, nitriles)

Butyl allene (smells like rotting meat)

Geraniol

Farnesol

Pinene

Trichloromethylstannane

Tetramethylsilane

Triethylamine

Ammonia

Methylamine (gassed myself with this)

Isopropyl alcohol

Inorganics

Potassium tetrachloroplatinate (red)

Hexacarbonylmolybdenum

Mercury (actually fun to play with, just don’t breathe in the vapors)

Tin(II) chloride

Mercury(II) acetate

Silica (for flash column chromatography)

Alumina (same as above)

Sodium hydride

Potassium carbonate

Magnesium sulfate

Cesium carbonate

Organometallics

Zeise’s Salt

dichloro(1,5-cyclooctadiene)platinum (white powder)

diiodo(1,5-cyclooctadiene)platinum (orange powder)

diethyl(1,5-cyclooctadiene)platinum (yellow oil)

Various piano-stool complexes from my undergrad research

Various Phosphine-Nitrogen ligand complexes with above-mentioned platinum complexes (sans 1,5-cyclooctadiene)

Diethyl zinc

Butyl lithium

Methyl lithium

Methyl magnesium bromide

Ethyl magnesium bromide

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One thought on “Misplaced Fear

  1. Here comes MDS/AML. Let me know when you get there. I treat 200 folks per year and at least half have exposures of some sort.

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