Industrial Chemicals Caught in a Media Storm

Amy Hawthorne

by Amy Hawthorne

17th October 2014

Industrial chemicals can be defined as those chemicals manufactured for use in industrial operations or research by industry, government or academia. They’re used constantly in our daily lives and the chemicals sector is one of the largest in the UK, directly employing over 140,000 people.

There’s no doubt that industrial chemicals are vital in the modern world. They make up cosmetics, toiletries, inks, laboratory chemicals, plastics, household cleaning products and a host of other necessities we regularly use.

There are strict guidelines governing the use of industrial chemicals in Europe.

Despite their overwhelming usefulness and regulations, industrial chemicals receive a fair share of bad publicity, with certain groups in the media aiming their arrow at the biggest companies around the world. This post provides an overview of groups that are trying to raise awareness about industrial chemicals in the things we consume and the things around our homes.

Often, these claims aren’t backed up by proper scientific research so some companies have defended the ingredients in their products. Others have buckled under pressure from the media and retracted particular ingredients. In fact, some members of the cosmetics industry have recently announced they will disclose all of their ingredients, which could put their trade secrets at risk.

Here are the claims from certain “health advocates” and the responses from commercial companies.

Industrial Chemicals and Obesity


Industrial chemicals have been linked to obesity, and McNuggets have been criticised for the chemicals they contain

The modern obesity problem is growing faster than our waistlines. There are a range of factors we might expect to be contributing to obesity in the wealthier countries; processed food, cheaper fast food, stress, less exercise due to digital technology, less manual labour jobs and generally easier access to more resources than we need.

A more unexpected claim to add to the list is that industrial chemicals may also be leading to gradual global weight gain. This article explains that “many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain.” This conclusion was reached partly due to the weight gain of animals in laboratory conditions that are kept on a strict diet.

So, if ourselves and our friends in the animal kingdom are gaining weight due to factors other than too much food and not enough exercise, it could be down to reasons beyond our control. The research looks at things that directly affect the body’s metabolism, and there has apparently been some evidence to say industrial chemicals can lead to weight gain.

According to Frederick vom Saal, a professor at the University of Missouri, the organic compound bisphenol-A (BPA) can alter fat regulation in lab animals. BPA is widely used in household plastics. A study at the New York University of Tropical Medicine found that American children and teens with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were five times more likely to be obese than those with lower levels.

Industrial Cleaning Products

Industrial cleaning products are needed for effective cleaning and hygiene measures in industrial and commercial settings. They offer additional benefits to cleaning products around the house as they’re suitable for industrial equipment; they can clean pipes, machinery, process equipment and so on.

Industrial cleaning products come in a range of different forms and are usually manufactured using a mixture of the following chemicals; chlor alkalis such as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, chelating agents, solvents and biocides.

Some evil-sounding names there. This is the angle adopted by groups that promote “natural” products, when they warn about the dangers that chemicals in cleaning products can present to yourself, your children and your pets.

There are countless tips on the web about how you can clean your home or workplace with natural products, based on the assumption that natural equates to safe. Common recommended products usually include lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar.

In order to prove they’re taking responsibility, The Clorox Company, an American brand for cleaning products, has provided information about their products. The information shows what Clorox do for both the safety of the environment and of people, the research their products undergo and insight into their ingredients.

Industrial Chemicals in Food and Sofas

Anti-Foaming Agent in Chicken McNuggets

Fast food companies are regularly targeted by health food advocates for creating the junk we put in our bodies. And rightly so in some cases. A double cheeseburger from McDonald’s (without the fries or drink) provides ¼ of your recommended daily calorie allowance.

However, criticisms have recently diverged from calorie issues to chemical issues. There has been uproar in the media recently due to the anti-foaming agent dimethylpolysiloxane which is used in Chicken McNuggets. This agent is also used in Silly Putty, and this fact has been the catalyst for so many complaints on twitter, blogs and the like.

In order to combat the influx of demands about their ingredients, McDonald’s has set up an FAQ website to improve their transparency and calmly answer enquiries about their products.

Chemicals are multi-functional and just because they’re used in non-edible products doesn’t mean they can’t be legitimately used in things we eat.


Media groups claim there are dangerous chemicals in a Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

As autumn has descended on us, so too has the seasonal range at famous coffee chains. The Pumpkin Spice Latte has been met with an angry online mob, led by “Food Babe” Vani Hari. Food Babe is widely known by scientists to have a distinct lack of any scientific background, yet she receives lots of attention in the media for her comments about the deadly chemicals in food.

More recently, she has rallied up support for her attack on the Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. To sum up, Food Babe has concluded that the latte contains hazardous industrial chemicals, as well as carcinogens, GMO corn, petrol and pesticides. As we know, industrial chemicals are designed for use by people, so when they’re included in a product, this is done in safe quantities in a controlled manner.

As one of many companies that have experienced Food Babe’s wrath, Starbucks have aimed to keep their name clear by being honest and open about their ingredients. They offer nutritional information and an ingredients list for most of their food and drink, and they also welcome any further questions that consumers may have.

A great counter-argument to Food Babe’s claim was presented by Chemist Raychelle Burks. She provides a scientific approach to chemicals and doesn’t fear the chemicals in a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Flame Retardants in Couches

There is nothing scarier than industrial chemicals being emitted from the very place you and your family spend time relaxing and unwinding, right? Lately, there have been numerous outcries about high toxicity levels in a flame retardant chemical found in sofas, known as TBBPA.

TBBPA is a widely-used brominated flame retardant. It can be found in TVs, carpets, pillows, paint, and of course, the much documented sofas. Now there are claims that the chemical makes couches “toxic” and that it can increase your chances of contracting cancer.

Following claims in the media, most furniture manufacturers are phasing out the use of TBBPA. This move could have two possible meanings; further studies suggested it is as dangerous as it sounds, or manufacturers want their customers’ minds to be at rest when they buy their products.

On closer examinations of the studies looking into the toxicity of TBBPA, it was found to cause tumours in in laboratory rodents. This explains the noise from the media towards couch companies. But, the levels of TBBPA administered to rodents stood at about 1.25 million times higher than the amount humans would be exposed to.

The dose really does make the poison. It seems clear that in the majority of cases, groups are targeting large companies for their use of industrial chemicals before they’re aware of the full story. Industrial chemicals make up our environment and the things we use every day, and more often than not, are present in safe amounts thanks to extensive scientific research.


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