Guilty privates

There’s an army barracks attached to a local village that allows the public to use its heated outdoor swimming pool in the summer. I often assumed it was too much chlorine that was the problem with stinging eyes.

But, according to chemist Howard Gosling that typical swimming pool smell actually comes from compounds known as chloramines that form when chlorine reacts with any urine or sweat in the water. Nice. It’s the chloramines not the chlorine that make your eyes sting.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about why the army pool brings tears to the eyes. Maybe the CO should drop in some of that chemical that turns the water blue of there are any guilty privates swimming.

Illicit CD-ROMs

An Australian chemist friend of mine was giving a lecture recently on how Western chemists might best help their colleagues in the developing world gain access to the mountains of chemical information available without eating into their own budgets too much.

Various systems based around the Web were discussed but industrial delegates were surprisingly more than a little interested in one particular idea concerning CD-ROMs.

My chemist friend planned to set up a cheap subscription service for a monthly CD-ROM that would mirror chemistry sites on the web and so bring the net to those scientists in poverty-struck institutes with no access. When the queue for samples of the CD-ROM had stretched to the back of the lecture hall my friend asked the next person in line why they were so keen to see the CD-ROM. The startling reply was that their employer was so scared of staff wasting time on the web that all net access was blocked – a CD-ROM could be viewed illicitly without needing a net connection.

I wonder if they were hoping that there’d be filth and pirated software mirrored on the disc too.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass

Where’s there’s muck there truly is brass according to the late Benjamin Luberoff writing in Chemistry & Industry. Luberoff reported that in Sacramento, California, someone is stealing the trash. Not just any old rubbish, mind, the stuff that’s getting the attention of the local criminal fraternity, or sorority, is the tonnes of recyclables residents kindly sort and leave out for collection every week.

It’s easy to load a pickup truck with aluminium Coors cans, paper and glass, drive to the local recycling plant and pick up a few nickels and dimes in return for one’s efforts, he reckons. The local police department estimates that some $400,000 worth of recyclables are being scavenged from among the garbage of the citizenry each year.

A sizeable loss to the city coffers to add to the $250,000 they spend on disposal of old fridges and tyres. I’m waiting with interest to see the same happening in Cambridge where a kerb-side recycling scheme was implemented last year. If it’s good enough for California.

Stick with grubby bedsheets

My Dad is a retired civil engineer and unfortunately for him recently suffered a severe and itchy allergic rash on his legs caused by exposure to a biological washing powder.

After trying a topical antihistamine cream Dad went to his GP who prescribed antibiotics then, as a last resort, a steroid cream known as Betnovate-C.

According to the information leaflet accompanying the tube of cream it ‘may stain hair, skin, or fabric’. So, what’s it doing to your skin, my Dad wondered.

That aside, after a successful treatment, he was a bit puzzled as to how wash out a particularly stubborn mark on the bedsheets. His mind was put at rest by the instructions on the cream’s leaflet – ‘stains may be removed with a biological washing powder,’ it said.

Of course.