The choice of chemicals that go into products that we buy off the shelves is not just determined by their performance.
There are several other factors in play – mostly marketing, but sometimes politics.
An excellent case in point is the insecticide Sevin. This was the first synthetic insecticide made that was lethal to insects without the undesirable properties of other synthetic insecticides such as organochlorines and organophosphates. That is. although it is toxic to insects, it is detoxified and eliminated rapidly in vertebrates and it is neither concentrated in fat nor secreted in the milk.
Before this came along the only insecticides with these properties were the synthetic pyrethroids, which are ultimately derivatives of naturally occurring pyrethrum. It is for these properties that the pyrethroids dominate the domestic insecticide market, and are included in every can of fly spray you buy off the shelf.
So why have you never heard of Sevin? The reason is purely political. Sevin, despite its desirable properties, has an unfortunate legacy. It was the insecticide being manufactured at the Union Carbide plant that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in the worst industrial accident of all time – the Bhopal disaster.
In that particular case, the Sevin was not the chemical that killed people – it was one of the intermediates: methyl isocyanate. Now, while methyl isocyanate is a deadly chemical, it is no more deadly than many other industrial chemicals in manufacturing plants around the world. It only caused this great loss of life due to the appalling safety management of Union Carbide.
However, in the public eye, they now associate it with the Bhopal disaster, and for that reason, this extremely useful and safe chemical is essentially lost to us.
it’s a simple case of a marketing principle: perception is reality. If the public perceives something to be true, then effectively it is true, despite what the facts and in this case science a very.
It’s exactly the same reason why after the Three Mile Island disaster, the Americans immediately stopped building nuclear power stations. You of course know of the Three Mile Island disaster don’t you – it’s the only grand disaster in history with a casualty count of zero.