Evacuation not best during a chemical incident

According to New Scientist this week, evacuation is not the best course of action during a chemical incident. Sheltering at home may be better than evacuation for residents living in an area during a chemical incident. So says a study of a real emergency situation that occurred in 1999 when a serious fire broke out in a plastsics factory in Devon, UK.

Ironically, it’s probably the only good reason for installing hermetic plastic-framed double glazing and doors in an otherwise authentic Devon cottage. I’m not sure what the building conservation organisations would have to say about that, but if we didn’t all install those uPVC window frames that potentially hazardous plastics factory maybe wouldn’t be there in the first place. Admittedly, we’d have to go for nice wooden frames instead, with their attendant environmental concerns, and repeated painting with noxious gloss paint! You can’t win.

Making dough from old mould

Over at sciscoop we just received a press release announcing a new enzyme-based mould-reducing cleaning product. The PR company that sent it announces that the eco-friendly solution removes mould stains and odours, and go on to say that “Unlike bleach and other commercial cleaners, it is 100% environmentally safe, biodegradable, and hypoallergenic – thus, not harmful to human, animal, plant and marine life.”

Quite a few claims to be making about a solution containing enzymes. 100% environmentally safe. That’s a load of bull, nothing can be 100% safe in any terms. It kills moulds for a start, who’s to say that destroying mould species won’t upset an ecosystem somewhere or other? Biodegradable, fair enough, but doesn’t biodegradation release carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases? The claim for hypoallergenicity has to be taken with a pinch of salt too. Enzymes are proteins and it is well known to anyone who has had a rash from using biological washing powder, that enzymes can cause allergic reactions and eczema. Why would these mould-destroying enzymes be any more benign. There will be users who “react” to this product.

My own reaction – everyone wants mould-free domestic environments, but making such spurious claims about a product won’t get me checking the supermarket shelf for this one any time soon. I’m not even going to name it – that’s how annoying their press release was!

Study: Genistein in soya may harm male fertility

I found an interesting write-up of that soy and sperm story I blogged yesterday: Genistein in soya

The author makes a similar point to me: “The study does not reveal how genistein would affect in vivo human sperm.”

But, then he says, “In reality, Asian people use a lot of soya products, but they don’t seem to have a fertility problem.” What does he mean “in reality”? As opposed to “in the laboratory?”, “in virtuality?”, “on TV?”, what? Anyway, how does he know that Asian people don’t suffer fertility problems, is he assuming that because the populations of Asian countries are high that individuals are fecund?

Anyway, back to the science – the isoflavone genistein has been shown in separate studies to have estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties and also to be a cancer protective. But, then others have shown it to cause uterine cancer…I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the truth, especially given that much of the research into the health benefits of soya products has been funded over the years by soya manufacturers.

Soybean Sperm Assassin

According to the BBC today, soybeans, peas, and French beans can affect fertility. Apparently, women shouldn’t eat these leguminous veggies because they can damage sperm. Surely it should be men that ought to avoid these vegetables…or is it that eating them releases something into the female reproductive tract that seeks and destroys sperm? The BBC didn’t say.

One thing that should be pointed out is that the researchers in question have only demonstrated the effect in the laboratory, said The Beeb. I reckon those researchers ought to be more careful about what they get up to in their lab, testing out their fertility on each other…

One other thing, before I go, according to http://www.nulldrweil.com/u/QA/QA89074/ if you’re undergoing IVF then both partners need to up their zinc intake and guess what he cites as the best vegetarian sources of Zn…legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, soy products and whole grains).

Talk about conflicting evidence.

Joni Mitchell would be turning in her grave

US researchers (Geological Survey and the City of Austin (Texas)) has discovered that runoff from the shiny coating, sealcoat, they apply to asphalt car parks is a previously unrecognized source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The study is online today (June 22) in Environmental Science and Technology. Is this yet another justification for reducing car use, or environmental whinging? You decide.

Copyright Free Articles

A new service is being touted around the journalists’ discussion groups I frequent. The organisation in question, is offering “Free, Non-copyrighted Feature Stories and 雷竞技炉石传说 ”. Sounds rather tempting, doesn’t it? Us writers could save ourselves a whole lot of time and effort by justing downloading and re-using these ready-made words, couldn’t we? Do I sound cynical? Well, one of the articles available for download and publication in my “newspaper” is entitled: “Survey Finds Writing is Key to Workplace Success” and it’s already found its way on to several dozen websites who have simply reproduced it verbatim. I reckon there must be several dozen writers at those publications feeling rather redundant at this time…

Is there a material that blocks magnetic forces?

A hit on my sciencebase article about frustrated magnets came about through a visitor searching Yahoo! for “material that blocks magnetic forces”.

Physlink provides a nice answer to the question of whether a “magnetic insulator” exists. The simple answer is no: Is there any material that can block a magnetic force?

Lead certainly doesn’t do it, and it’s all because of Maxwell’s Equation. You can of course re-route a magnetic field and supposed shielding materials exist.

Orgasms fill the news

Orgasm seems to be the hot topic for science news this summer. We had the genetic basis of female orgasm a couple of weeks ago and now The Register is reporting how women’s brains switch off when they are brought to orgasm by their partner. How can they tell? Bedside MRI apparently. So if you have a few million dollars to spare, says the naughty little publication, you can spot a fake.

A cup of hot tea does not cool you down

nice-cup-of-teaAt the time of writing, the UK was in the middle of a rare heatwave, and my mother, as usual, suffers when the mercury rises about 25 or so (it’s 33 here today!) and, as usual, is suggesting everyone has a nice cup of hot tea to help them cool down.

Of course, it is easy to mock the underlying physics of such a suggestion (Does Hot Tea Really Cool You Down?), and I have explained to my mother that it’s a myth, but such conventional wisdom seems to persist and someone only this morning visited the sciencebase site searching for an answer to the question, does hot tea cool you down? Or more generally “does a hot drink cool you down?” Someone, even asked the presumptuous question: “Why does drinking hot drinks cool you down?”

Bluntly, no.

However, even as a hot drink, it can make you feel refreshed even when the air is still and humid and as long as you don’t gulp it down too quickly it won’t make you even more sweaty. I guess there may be a psychological effect, if the air is warm and humid and you drink something hot, that will heat you up more and make you sweat, sweat evaporates from your skin cooling your skin, so maybe you end up feeling slightly cooler, but I’m still not convinced. In fact, sweating inflames the skin in some ways as capillaries open up and you actually feel hotter when you sweat more, unless you’ve got a very strong fan. Anyway, from the thermodynamics point of view adding a hot liquid to a cooler container (your body) will raise the temperature of the container.

Now, iced tea is a different matter – make mine a peach one! And, plenty of ice!

Of course, there’s also this well-known 19th century quotation from Gladstone

If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.

For more on teatime etiquette, check out this item.

Fucnose – carbohydrate nomenclature

Molecule of the day – Fucnose – any carbohydrate of indeterminate structure. These sugar molecules are so tough to crack that you may hear chemistry professors shout its name from the top of their voice in exasperation at just how hard it is to identify. Fucnose is loosely related in structure to godnose (an early name for vitamin C, having originally been known as ignose!). Check out Paul May’s silly molecules site for more (genuine) molecules with (you guessed it) silly names and to read the complete tale of godnose and ignose.