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'Kill swine flu without use of chemicals'? Using what -- imagination?

January 14, 2010 |  9:41 am

Note to the easily alarmed: "Chemical-free" does not mean what you think it means. 

The term has quite irritatingly become shorthand for "scary compounds we know nothing about and thus must be bad," used to describe whatever a company wants you to think is gentle, benign or guaranteed safe. Enough, I say! As a description of tangible substances, it's wrong. And I want you not to be fooled by it.

Here's an answer to the question What is a chemical?

"Short answer: Everything is a chemical. Longer answer: Chemistry is the study of matter and its interactions with other matter. Anything made of matter is therefore a chemical. Any liquid, solid, gas. Any pure substance; any mixture. Water is a chemical. Technically speaking, so is a chunk of your computer."

Oxygen? A chemical element. Water? A combination of the chemical elements hydrogen and oxygen. The human body? A whole passel of chemicals -- naturally occurring ones, no less.

There's more, but that's probably enough for today. If not, here's a fun site, Don't be chastened by the name. The very friendly home page does state that "it's for everyone."

As for the "kill swine flu without use of chemicals" reference, it's from a pitch for a product that uses tap water.

-- Tami Dennis

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Comments (1)

Tami, thank you for reinforcing the often-forgotten definition of chemistry!

The science of matter is fundamental to understanding ourselves and our environment and how we can improve life on planet Earth. And the Periodic Table of Elements ( is nothing more than a map of nature’s “tool box” of matter. Smart use of the tool box can lead to big improvements. Case in point: using tool box element #17, chlorine, to kill natural invisible disease agents, such as bacteria, in drinking water. There are many, many, more examples (


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