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  Editor's Page  
  October 18, 2004
Volume 82, Number 42
p. 5
 

  Debating Chlorine  

  RUDY M. BAUM
Editor-in-chief
 
   
 
 

This week's issue of C&EN contains the second "Point-Counterpoint" feature to appear in the magazine in the past year (see page 40). This one focuses on chlorine chemistry and the role chlorine should or should not play in a sustainable economy. It is must reading for anyone with a stake in the chemical enterprise as it presents two starkly different viewpoints on a topic that has broad implications.

Terrence Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, takes the view that chlorine, especially chlorine contained in polyvinyl chloride-based building materials and other consumer products, needs to be largely removed from the economy. Collins takes this position because, when such products are accidentally or intentionally incinerated, dioxins inevitably are formed, albeit in very small amounts. Collins believes these dioxins pose an unacceptable threat to human health, particularly the health of pregnant women, their unborn children, and young children. He argues forcefully that these risks override any benefits such chlorine-containing products bestow on society.

C. T. (Kip) Howlett Jr., executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council and vice president of the American Chemistry Council, argues just as forcefully that chlorine is a key element of sustainable development. Howlett observes that chlorine is an affordable disinfectant for treating drinking water, that it is a chemical reagent essential for synthesizing many pharmaceuticals, and that products and services that result in 45% of the U.S. gross domestic product are rooted in chlorine chemistry. With regard to PVC, Howlett argues that the chlorine chemistry industry has reduced already low dioxins emissions dramatically and that there is scant evidence that burning PVC-containing materials has led to an increase in the amount of dioxins in human tissues.

C&EN's first Point-Counterpoint focused on nanotechnology (Dec. 1, 2003, page 37). It brought together two major figures in the nanotechnology world, K. Eric Drexler and Richard E. Smalley, and gave them a forum to debate their views on "molecular manufacturing." Like the feature on chlorine in this week's issue, the earlier Point-Counterpoint was coordinated by C&EN News Editor William Schulz.

"In the fast pace of weekly journalism, it's great to be able to step back and let the experts speak in-depth on controversial issues," Schulz says. "Provocative subjects often make for good reading, and in the process we inform our own reporting on topics relevant to chemistry and the sciences in general."

Many of the topics C&EN covers are inherently controversial and often contain a distinct political component in that they require policy choices. The role of chlorine in our economy is a clear example of such a topic in that many of the chlorine-containing chemicals discussed by Collins and Howlett--including pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, and dioxins--are already heavily regulated, and C&EN has reported on the development and enforcement of those regulations. In C&EN's reporting on topics such as these, we work hard to fashion a balanced treatment of the topic that fairly presents conflicting points of view. In some cases, as in this Point-Counterpoint on chlorine, the most effective role C&EN can play is to provide a forum for two highly knowledgeable and articulate experts to present their divergent points of view.

In other cases, straight reporting works best. With the U.S. presidential election only two weeks away from this week's issue date, the positions of President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry on a variety of science and technology issues is the focus of the Government & Policy Department lead story by Assistant Managing Editor David Hanson (see page 35). As Hanson points out, Bush and Kerry share a deep appreciation for the role science and technology play in the U.S. economy. They differ, however, on many particulars, including stem cell research, global climate change, and energy. These differences are not likely to affect the outcome of the election, but they will affect the science and technology community in important ways in the coming four years.

The other stories in this week's issue cover the gamut, from a new petrochemical complex in Shanghai to the chemistry of cheese. In other words, the global chemical enterprise in all its variations.

Thanks for reading.

 
     
  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2004
 


Related Stories
The Many Faces Of Chlorine
[C&EN, October 18, 2004]  
Science Politics
[C&EN, October 18, 2004]  


 
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