Chemistry – Curse or Blessing?
Is chemistry going to be the death of us all, or will each new discovery help make our lives easier and more beautiful? Our image of this important industrial branch is often determined by frequent negative headlines. And yet, there is another side of the picture as well.
Time and again, we are alarmed by news about chemical industrial accidents. Such stories range from explosions or clouds of toxic gas resulting in public warnings to keep the windows closed to the terrible accidents in Seveso and Bhopal during the 1970s and 1980s.
This leads us to develop a profound sense of uneasiness when we think about chemistry. Chemistry harms man and beast alike; chemistry pollutes the environment; chemistry is simply a bad thing. Is it really true?
Simply let yourself run through one whole day in your life and pay attention to all the places that you encounter chemistry. It begins early in the morning when your radio alarm clock awakens you from sleep – its case is probably made of plastic. In the bathroom, you prepare yourself for the coming day with shower gel, toothpaste and body lotion. You can be sure that almost all of the ingredients come from the world of chemistry.
Later on, as you go to work, whether you are driving your car or taking an environmentally friendly bus or train to get there, once again, you will discover a number of chemical products around you. Just think about the paint on the car or the fuel. And what about at your office or workshop?
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It doesn’t matter whether you look at the flat screen of your PC or your telephone; these objects were manufactured using plastics and liquids supplied by the chemical industry. The panelling of your modern desk is made primarily of laminate and without the numerous resources provided to industry and the trades by chemistry, there would be no way to produce it. And there is more! Felt-tip pens and your children’s toys, washing and cleaning products that make your household work easier and innumerable objects that you use in your leisure activities; everywhere you look, you will keep finding more products that come from the chemical industry. The list could go on forever.
It is clear that without chemistry, modern life as we know it would no longer be imaginable. It is also clear that the indisputable dangers associated with chemistry must be reduced to a minimum! Policy-makers, regulatory agencies and the industry itself have the duty to mitigate the dangers to us and to our environment. Product safety, workplace safety and the highest environmental standards must be given the greatest priority. It is not acceptable to simply transfer production facilities to third world countries for the purpose of maximizing profit, knowing that they completely fail to uphold such standards.
If we are able to accept all of this, then we will not wish to or need to deprive ourselves of the diverse applications and fantastic possibilities that chemistry will continue to offer us in the future.