Impact of Chemistry on Society
Chemistry is the scientific discipline focusing on the study of compounds comprised of atoms, elements and molecules, and how their composition, structure, properties and behaviour changes as they undergo reactions with other compounds. Chemistry studies the bonds that form between various atoms and molecules as they form the compounds that makeup the world around us. Chemistry as a science has a long history spanning several thousand years and has slowly been refined as the years have passed with many more discoveries yet to be made. Medicinal or pharmaceutical chemistry are one such discipline of chemistry focusing on the design and synthesis of various compounds and substances to produce a pharmaceutical agent or drug that will hopefully prove beneficial to the health of humans with little to no side-effects. Medicinal chemistry also involves a degree of biology as it is needed to observe how various compounds will interact with the human biology and immune system so that a drug may be beneficial. Most of society is unaware of the specifics of pharmaceutical chemistry only being aware of drugs produced or being made aware of apparent breakthroughs on new and possible drugs that may cure certain sicknesses through the media without seeing much changing. Most notably vaccines for strains of viruses or bacteria that appear and claim a number of lives such as Ebola or strong strains of flu. Other than these many articles appear on possible new cancer treatments or other deadly ailments that have thus far proven hard to outright cure.
There are many impacts both positive and negative due to advancements in chemistry over the past years ranging from both large and small. Personally, I believe the positives to outweigh the negative impacts and I believe that the majority of society is thankful for the large improvements in the quality of life that such advancements has brought. Although while generally positive there are some noticeable negatives.
The chemical industry is a major polluter
There is no doubt that an industry as large as the chemical industry would cause a large amount of pollution especially as a large amount od the chemicals or products produced are synthetic or do not break down easily when left alone in nature. With many of the chemicals used or generated waste being outright poisonous or harmful to most organic life. Chemical manufacturing can be tied directly to close to 200 polluted sites according to the Blacksmith Institute’s database. Leading to an approximate 5.3 million people in danger from the pollution. The majority of these sites being in eastern Europe, China and south Asia. According to the EPA chemical manufacturing may be defined as “creating products by transforming organic and inorganic raw materials with chemical processes.” 1 This definition unfortunately encompasses a very large amount of industries that are very useful in maintaining our current standard of living. They treat medical problems, improve standards of living and are relied upon for a vast range of activities that we make use of in our daily lives
The ozone layer being harmed by cfc’s
The ozone layer is very important to us as it helps to absorb much of the UV radiation that would otherwise be very harmful to us. Unfortunately, due to various man-made chemicals it has been severely harmed in the past years. The main cause of ozone depletion and the ozone hole is man-made halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and foam blowing agents (chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs). Although there is a natural reduction in the ozone layer due to seasonal change the production of these chemicals caused a measure of harm to the ozone layer. As a result of the discovery many of these solvents and cfc’s were banned and production of them was limited and the rate of depletion has been heavily reduced the ozone is steadily recovering thanks to many policies being put in place to safe guard our environment.
The devastating impact of chemical weapons
There are few weapons of mass destruction available in modern times, the list includes nuclear weaponry, biological weaponry and of course chemical weaponry. As with many aspects of advancements in science many horrifically devastating weapons become realised in the military. Chemical weapons are among such weapons used seeing extensive use in the first world war where vast quantities of chlorine, mustard gas, and phosgene were deployed leading to thousands of deaths and injuries. Following that napalm and Agent Orange were used to devastating effect in ww2 and the Vietnam war. Even after being banned by the Geneva convention there have been a suspected 300 deaths from Sarin gas deployed in Syria. There is no doubt that such weapons are horrific in the extreme and ideally never claim the lives of anyone, however the harsh reality that there are some groups in society with little to no morals or lines that the will not cross. While this is an atrocity it is in no fault of the science itself or the chemists who have brought us this far in our advancement and understanding of chemistry, there will always be some that manage to make any sort of scientific improvement to create some new and horrible weapons. Thankfully society at large has denounced the use of such weapons and do jot resent the sciences that birthed them.
1″Sector Programs: Chemical Manufacturing”. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2011
Thankfully there are many benefits that have come from our advancement in chemistry both large and small some being part of our daily lives to the point we no longer register it as anything new and other larger advances that have helped to save many lives through medicine or improvements in quality of life allowing us to live longer lives.
The healthcare system and drugs produced by scientists
Improvements in the healthcare systems across the world have helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives from ailments that were previously thought to be life threatening. The drugs produced by chemists have helped eradicate many sicknesses through vaccines and antibiotics. The one most important discovery that has helped treat many bacterial diseases and saved over 80 million lives is penicillin discovered in 1942. Almost 75% of people owe their lives to the drug as many of their ancestors would have been unable to survive an infection. This drug alone, which was discovered by accident, gives a huge positive in favour of chemistry and more research into possible medicines in the future. Other notable drugs are Insulin, which was discovered in 1922 that allowed people diagnosed with diabetes the chance to live a much more normal and comfortable life. Morphine which was first discovered by German pharmacist Friedrich Serturner in 1827. Although this drug has been misused and people have become addicted it has nonetheless provided an excellent pain management drug which has seen extensive use in hospitals allowing patients some measure of comfort. Finally, the smallpox vaccine which has almost entirely removed all fatalities of the disease from the planet. Smallpox was one of the worst threats faced by humanity being responsible for over 10-20% of all fatalities at one point.
One of the things we seem to take for granted in todays society is the ability to almost always have clean and fresh water wherever we go. In Ireland alone the CSO (central statistics office) found that on average the median figure for water consumption is 252 litres daily. There are some countries where finding moderately clean water is a luxury.
The food industry, the preservation and manufacture of food
There is a large branch of science dedicated to the food industry that we are often unaware of. Agricultural and food chemists study all aspects of crop and animal production, food safety, processing, and packaging. They help to produce nutritious food that will feed and support the population in a sustainable way. This is understandably a huge benefit to our standards of living today as early methods of agriculture would be totally unable to support our large and growing population. It would be especially impossible to provide constantly fresh produce to huge population centres across the world. It is through abundance of food among other influences that has allowed our freedom to grow so large as a species.
As a whole I believe chemistry to have a majorly positive outcome on our society with the negatives being outweighed or in the process of being solved or lessened. Surprisingly so most others in the general public share the opinion that chemistry is a positive science with improvements being made for the good of our society as a whole. A research paper published on the royal society of chemistry showed the publics opinion on science in the UK. “The overall picture for the UK is positive, with research showing increases in public interest and engagement with science year on year” 2
Four-fifths (81%) agree that science will make people’s lives easier
Three-quarters (76%) think scientific research makes a direct contribution to economic growth in the UK
Over eight-in-ten (84%) agree that science is such a big part of our lives that we should all take an interest
Over half (55%) think that the benefits of science outweigh any harmful effects, compared with 45% in 1988
This study shows us that the public does not have the negative opinion on science that we may have though it did. “Seven-in-ten (72%) agree that it is important to know about it in their daily lives, compared with 57% in 1988” 3
Much of this supposed thinking on the publics opinion perhaps stems from the lack of communication between chemists and the media today so we assume that they have a negative image of chemistry as a science.
2 TNS BMRB Public attitudes to chemistry available online at: http://www.rsc.org/globalassets/04-campaigning-outreach/campaigning/public-attitudes-to-chemistry/public-attitudes-to-chemistry-research-report.pdf
3 Ipsos Mori (March 2014) Public Attitudes to Science available online at https://www.ipsosmori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/pas-2014-main-report.pdf