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Green chemistry

October 8, 2006

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CENTER OF GRAVITY
By Rony V. Diaz
Manila Times, Oct. 8, 2006

ON the third day of the Guimaras oil spill, I saw a news report that a “dispersant” had been sprayed on the goo to dissolve it.

I wanted to know what it was. The person I rang in Petron did not have a clue. I was told by someone in Task Force Guimaras that their job was to get people off the shoreline and to see to it that they had enough to eat and drink. They could not be bothered by any chemical, this or that.

I remembered reading sometime ago in Science about activated hydrogen peroxide being used to destroy chlorophenols. My search turned up two bits of useful information. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has an Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry, headed by Terrence Collins, one of the authors of the piece in Science that I recalled.

The Institute has developed a group of catalyst molecules called TAML—tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand—that worked with hydrogen peroxide—yes, the stuff you use to change the color of your hair—to break down “persistent pollutants.”

Let’s backtrack. Modern chemistry is not natural. It assembles elements in ways that nature does not or never could do. For example, the biochemical processes of nature use elements that are abundant and ready to hand—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium and iron. Every living thing on this planet, from a paramecium to a human being, is “made” of these elements. In contrast, man-made chemistry uses elements that are rare and are severely toxic—lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, uranium, plutonium, among others. Lead, until recently, was even used in gasoline and is still used to make paint. Lead poisoning can cause permanent neurological damage. Furthermore, none of these elements degrade easily. Thus, they pass into what we breathe, eat and drink in their unaltered forms.

(To read entire column, click Rony Diaz.)

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