Chemicals: Friends or Foes?

Notwithstanding the industrial developments, there are a lot of misconceptions about chemical industries particularly. A recent Tamil movie, rather, triggered me to write this piece.

Chemicals are like humans; there are good, bad and inert. In the same manner chemicals are bad, good and inert. Nevertheless, anything in excess is bad. The simple example is sodium chloride, the common salt which we use in our cooking ultimately for taste is basically a harmless one. But, imagine if you add a little excess of it in your preparation, the product becomes unpalatable. If it is less, ok, you can add. The excess you have added in any food item you have added cannot be withdrawn also.

LPG which every household and tea shop uses is a highly flammable and explosive gas. We keep reading about the several accidents which keep taking place in houses because the gas cylinder was not closed properly. But, that is a bit of a surprise to me as all the domestic gases, a very small amount of another chemical is added; that is called ethyl mercaptan. This one smells even in parts per billion. So it is easy for someone to detect the gas leak with our smelling faculty within seconds.

Petrol and diesel are other widely used volatile chemicals which are always very much in demand for transport. Most of our medicines are chemical combinations only. In my opinion, even naturally occurring water is also a chemical because two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen form water. Is it not also a danger that water comes in excess or totally unavailable?

Effluents of any industry have to be treated properly and sent to the water drains. Don’t our bodies create effluents and waste from what we eat? When the industries fail in that it can cause havoc. True. But, one cannot condemn the industry per se.

The worst Bhopal Gas Tragedy due to the highly toxic chemical Methyl Isocyanate in 1984 and in the same year a big explosion and fire in Mexico because of LPG are historical. The causes for both are highly negligent, irresponsible human behavior in spite of the fact there were several safety provisions made which were not properly maintained and used. ‘Human error’ and ‘irresponsibility’ are the most common causes of any accident, and so also the chemical industrial accidents and damage.

We read every day at least two serious road accidents related to two or four wheelers because of negligence or rash driving. Are there any hue and cry to close down the factories manufacturing two wheelers mostly susceptible to road tragedies?

We always come across different types of friends. We should remember Chemicals are good friends but bad enemies. So we need to handle them with care. 

I have written this piece because I recently watched a Tamil movie where wrong, bad impressions and laughable scenes were included about chemicals and chemical industries. In yet another popular star’s movie banking and mutual fund systems are said to have been put to heavy criticism. I feel if the Tamil film world could not ‘educate’ the public at least let them abstain from ‘un-educating’ the masses with erroneous and misleading information since as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned ‘cinema’ is the ‘most powerful medium’ in influencing the gullible public. 



More by :  G Swaminathan

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