Is exposure to chemicals making you gain weight?


Since we were kids, we have been told to eat certain foods even if we’ve found them kind of icky. This is because it’s good for us. Out of fear, we’ve gulped it down, hid it, avoided it, cried over it. As we’ve grown older, some of those things have grown on us. Some, let’s just say – we never got over. We’ve always had a love and hate relationship with our food. Most importantly, we’ve grown to understand the effects of the food we eat on us.

There may be certain kinds of food that might affect you in a way that you don’t want them to – for example, rice. People who are conscious about weight gain tend to avoid rice. But, have you ever wondered, why after all the trials and tribulations, you can’t win over weight gain. It can be because of your genetic makeup or your physical activities. There might be something else lurking around you that you may be missing, that nobody is really telling you or talking about, not even the doctor. It is so because we’ve not yet fully understood the adverse effect of all the chemicals on human health.

With changing times and lifestyles, what we eat and the way we eat it has changed. Even healthy food comes sprayed with pesticides and packaged in plastic that if you heat in a microwave or run through a dishwasher with hot water, can leach out chemicals into the meal. If you are wondering if there is any evidence that microwaving food alters its composition or has any detrimental effects on humans or animals. No, there is not, but yes it does if you heat it in plastic containers – clear, styrofoam, any kind of plastic for that matter.

A recent study links fluorinated chemicals to more weight gain and slower metabolism in people dieting. Weight gain is only one of the many health problems that certain chemicals are causing – other issues include cancer and hormone disruption. Another research links obesity to cancer, the point being weight gain can trigger other health issues, which is why people hold obesity so dearly in their daily worries., besides the stigma of looking fat.

It can be hard for a layman to really keep up with this kind of information. Fortunately, there are non-governmental organisations out there who look into it, who keep things in check, although there are governmental entities that do it too. You can follow both – governmental as well as the non-governmental organisations, to keep yourself abreast of findings and reports.

Examples of non-governmental organisations:

Examples of governmental organisations:

Want to start protecting yourself? Don’t want to wait until you read those reports? Let’s not freak out. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Stop microwaving food in plastic containers
  2. Stop storing warm or hot food in plastic containers
  3. Do not drink out of plastic bottles that have been baking in the sun


  • Microwave safe ceramic containers and silverware
  • Microwave-safe glass containers and silverware
  • Steel containers for non-microwave heating

Easy-peasy? If yes, you can take it up a notch and grow your own food – start with herbs or spring onions. There are also things other than food that can introduce toxic chemicals into your body, but we will stop this blog post with food. Until next time!

Neti pot


Neti pot is a device that you can use to irrigate your nasal passage with luke warm saline water. Something I learnt from my mother-in-law. I haven’t been unfamiliar with this concept as I have tried it before in another form prescribed by my doctor which simply was a saline spray. I tried neti pot also because I like to take things with a grain of salt, ha! But mostly because I caught allergies several times after being exposed to a new atmosphere two years back.

I haven’t caught allergies so often last year so I am assuming things are better now, perhaps my body got feistier. Nevertheless, the past few days I’ve felt nasal congestion and itchiness. I tried neti pot again today and I wish I had some eucalyptus oil to smell after. This oil was the only thing that kept me from freaking out after the Swine Flu breakout in India many years back.

We are constantly surrounded by home-made and natural remedies thanks to media. Do you listen to them all? Does it wake the skeptic in you? I always tend to try things if they make the slightest of sense, or if they come from my mom only if it has come from her mom and not from her phone. I now mostly tend to try things if it means not exposing my body to chemicals or pharmaceuticals (potato-potahto).

To not turn a deaf ear to whatever I read or hear from whoever, I always do some research. A good friend once said, “You will always find what you are looking for when you Google it.” Basically, if I’m looking for benefits of using a neti pot, I’ll find those. If I’m looking for dangers of using a neti pot, I’ll find those too.

My brother thinks neti pots can be dangerous if not used well. He is right. It can lead to infections and you may become a zombie. OK, not a zombie, but it can lead to amoeba’s eating your brain. It does sound scary but I tried anyway. I try it with utmost precaution.

Which are those remedies that have been passed on from generations that you have tried and have worked for you? Perhaps a favorite one you recall?

Who is phasing out what

Volunteer Image Author TheDigitalArtist

The world is phasing out fossil-fuels, old polluting vehicles, plastic products, toxic substances, nuclear power, biofuel, incandescent light bulbs, ozone depleting substances, waste imports, second hand clothes, food waste, and ivory trade. These are either gradual phase outs or immediate bans. So, who exactly is phasing out what? Read ahead to find out.

Who is phasing out fossil-fuels?

Who is phasing out old polluting vehicles?

Who is phasing out plastic products?

Who is phasing out toxic substances?

Who is phasing out nuclear power?

Who is phasing out biofuel?

Who is phasing out incandescent light bulbs?

Who is phasing out ozone depleting substances?

Who is phasing out waste imports?

Who is phasing out second hand clothes?

Who is phasing out ivory trade?

 Who is banning food waste?

Who is banning deforestation?

Last Edited: April 4 2018

Should we abolish the nail polish?

Nail paints have been in fashion for a long long time now. I don’t see them going out of fashion ever, but wait. Are there any chemicals lurking behind the beauty? This is Anuja, pretending to sound like a journalist, from :D

As a kid I had a bad habit of biting my nails. My mom tried to stop me but never succeeded until I started realizing how ugly they look. Back then nail paints were for my toes only. My toes however never took it so well, they’d almost always go yellow after I applied nail paints. Yellowing was caused due to the leftover dyes in the polish. The trick was to use a clear-base coat but I wasn’t that fashion savvy but I know this now.

Applying nail paint was one of the ways to deter me from biting them but out of desperation I would scrap it off with my teeth. I recently advised a friend to do the same but I wondered if any chemicals went into my mouth when I did that. A study led by Duke University and Environmental Working Group suggests that we absorb at least one potentially hormone-disrupting chemical every time we get a polish. What was I thinking putting my nails into my mouth like that?

According to, nail polish could be made of:

  • Nitrocellulose (CAS:9004-70-0) – a film former, the gloss giver.
  • Dissolved in solvents such as butyl acetate (CAS: 123-86-4) or ethyl acetate (CAS: 141-78-6). Toluene, xylene and formalin or formaldehyde used to be in nail polishes as solvents and are infamously toxic.
  • Tosylamide-formaldehyde (CAS: 25035-71-6) and triphenyl phosphate (CAS: 115-86-6) are resins that help the polish adhere to the nails surface.
  • Plasticizers such as Camphor (CAS: 464-49-3, it has some more CAS numbers. According to EPA, a chemical may also be listed with multiple CAS numbers when multiple numbers have been inadvertently assigned to the same chemical. This multiple assignment can occur when forms of a chemical are originally believed to be unique, but after further review by chemists, are identified as the same chemical.) prevent the polish from cracking.
  • A pigment that colors the polish.
  • Titanium dioxide (CAS: 13463-67-7) or ground mica for the sparkles.
  • Thickening agents such as stearalkonium hectorite.

Some of the tools I used to access toxicity of above mentioned chemicals are:

  • Chemical Data Access Tool (CDAT): I did not find this useful. Take the first one for instance and tell me what you see. It won’t even give me anything when I entered ‘nitrocellulose’, I had to look for its CAS number. So I’ve given you the CAS number to find out for yourself and in case you find a new tool and it needs a CAS number. Let me know if you find a new and better tool.
  • ChemHATBlueGreen Alliance has launched a new, free tool that is designed by workers for workers to make it easier to learn about chemicals: ChemHAT (Chemical Hazards and Alternatives Toolbox). With ChemHAT’s searchable database, one can easily read about the scientific findings on the short and long-term health effects of over 10,000 commonly used chemicals. It also lets you search by the CAS number. Couldn’t find nitrocellulose on that one. I have used this the most and have compiled the information of the chemicals below in the form of a slideshow. If you are unable to see let me know and I’ll change the format or solve the issue somehow.
  • Green Chemistry Toxics Information Databases: If you want to try more tools.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While doing this I wondered how would a common man would do all this. I really think it is the job of the authorities who are responsible for ascertaining the nature of the chemicals used, transparency, and safety of the people. There are people who are paid to do things like this, so why bother the common man with tools that are not even user friendly. There were some chemicals I didn’t even find the information for in those tools. Why? In spite of this, I don’t want nail polishes to be abolished because I like painting my nails occasionally. Here are some eco-friendly nail polishes one can use.

When you are done finding one, you can head over to my cousin’s nail art on Instagram for some cool nail design! She is really good at it. 2016-05-23 14-54-27

And when you are done doing that let me know how going eco-friendly worked for you.

Inequality in labeling chemicals


As a student who has studied chemicals, observing tankers carrying chemicals interests me and may also interest you after you read this post. If you haven’t observed these tankers closely, may be you will now. By knowing the symbols on these tankers, one can prevent injuries, not just in chemical factories but also in offices, homes and places where chemicals are used. This is because it is not only the tankers that bear such information, other products have them too.

Symbols 2The picture above is of NH3 on NH17. NH3 is the chemical formula for ammonia. It was shot on one of India’s national highways NH17, one of the busiest and 7th longest in the country. The picture shows all kinds of indicators that are on the tanker. These are:

  • rear lights -to indicate the speed of the vehicle
  • a triangle with a light reflective material on it – a warning of a vehicle ahead; shines in the dark when a vehicle behind it uses headlights
  • a number plate – identification of the tank
  • name of the chemical the tank is carrying
  • two hazard symbols (aka pictograms)- skull-crossbones and a diamond placard

Tankers like these are a usual sight on these roads, considering India is the 2nd largest producer of ammonia in the world. It’s not surprising because India has a huge population and it is also the 2nd largest in terms of agricultural output. The tankers are especially striking when they give off odor. We all know ammonia doesn’t smell nice. Cosmetic products try to avoid it. They often spell out on their product ‘No ammonia’ or ‘Ammonia free’. It is also used in fertilizers, cleaning products, explosives, dyes, water purification and a lot more.

Quick facts about ammonia:

  • Poisonous: For short-term exposure, a 2,500 ppm (0.25%) concentration in air may be fatal within 30 minutes.
  • Fire hazard: At high concentrations and high temperature
  • Water polluting: Easily dissolves in water and forms ammonium hydroxide
  • Colorless gas
  • Corrosive

Deciphering the symbols in the picture:

We can learn something about the chemical from the symbols on the tanker. The tanker is carrying liquefied compressed ammonia gas. A liquefied gas is a gas when packaged under pressure for transport is partially liquid at temperatures above – 50 degree C. But if that is so, it needs cooling and I wonder how that is done in these tankers. Gay-Lussac’s law says that as the pressure goes up, the temperature also goes up, and vice-versa. So, since it is pressurized, it is at a lower temperature too, so no external cooling needed. The skull-crossbones symbol is that of a toxic/poisonous chemical and a diamond placard with a number on it needs a bit of an explanation. The fire symbol on the diamond means that it is a flammable substance. The number on the diamond signifies which class the chemical belongs to, which in this case is Class 2. Class 2 substances are gases. I apologize for not taking the side-picture of the tanker, else we could have had more to decipher.

Mind you, the hazard symbol in this picture is an old convention. A pictorial list of old hazard symbols can be found here. This is where we speak about inequality in labeling chemicals.

Inequality in labeling chemicals:

In Rio de Janeiro in the year 1992, at the UN Conference on the Environment and Development, a consistent system was developed so that if anyone from any part of the world sees these symbols, they will know what it means irrespective of the country they belong to. This system was called the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). This system makes things easy to decipher.

In the year 2012, India was supposed to issue rules to implement GHS but there was no news after that. Wonder what happened. I’ll let you in on a scary memory though. My first experience of watching a tanker spill was while watching the movie Terminator. Here’s the scene I’m talking about:

It feels good to be more informed about things around us, don’t you think?

Further reading:

Indian Chemical Laws and Regulation:

  • Rules under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
    • Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989, 2000
    • ™Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Amendment Rules, 1996
    • ™Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, 1992
  • Health & Safety Related Laws & Regulations:
    • ™Factories Act, 1948, 1987
    • ™Explosives Act, 1889
    • Gas Cylinder Rules, 1981
    • ™Petroleum Act, 1934, Rules, 1976
    • ™Motor Vehicle Act, 1988

An excellent compilation of information on the laws is presented by K.P. Nyati, Confederation of Indian Industry, New Delhi, India in a presentation called ‘Laws & Regulations for Management of Chemicals in India‘.

According to Ministry of Environment and Forests, India, following rules are to be followed while labeling tankers carrying hazardous chemicals:

An occupier shall not handle a material which is hazardous for supply and transport unless the material is clearly marked in accordance with the following requirements, namely:

  • diamond placard (read all its specifications here)
  • on an orange rectangular panel (read all its specifications here), to be placed immediately adjacent to each placard displaying therein the United Nation number for the goods in black digits.  (UN number is a four digit serial number assigned to the substance under the United Nations system.)
  • the product name including the trade name, substance name, systematic chemical name and chemical identifiers such as Chemical Abstract Number, as applicable;
  • the name and address of the manufacturer, importer, wholesaler or other supplier of the material, and including of any deemed necessary for traceability of the material to the manufacturer or producer;
  • an emergency telephone number manned in Hindi or English twenty-four hours must be indicated on the container, iso-container or tanker; (Now you remember this one very clearly.)
  • The following information on the substance, if it considered hazardous, namely:
    • proper shipping name
    • United Nation number
    • hazard class
    • secondary hazard
    • packing group
  • the labels shall be displayed on at least two sides of the container, iso-container or tanker or transport unit

You can read the entire document here. The document also contains a list of chemicals as per Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical (Amendment) Rules, 2000. Similar laws are present in the US.

Glossary of Label Elements Included in GHS, EPA

Globally Harmonized System (GHS), Sigma Aldrich

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals by Sunanda Kadam, Intertek


Edit: (10/10/15) But if that is so, it needs cooling and I wonder how that is done in these tankers. Gay-Lussac’s law says that as the pressure goes up, the temperature also goes up, and vice-versa. So, since it is pressurized, it is at a lower temperature too, so no external cooling needed.

Safety during ultrasonication

James Bond in Casino Royale shoots a propane tank with a handgun. You didn’t miss that did you? If you did, do you at least remember what happens when a gas tank explodes after a crash in Terminator 2: Judgment Day? It’s okay if you don’t, because I’m going to tell  you what happened when the famous ‘rainbow experiment’ went wrong in a lab. Not once but twice.

Chemicals are as nasty as they are shown in films. Chemicals are also very noxious in a chemical laboratory as much as they are at any place else. That’s why wherever you are, whatever you do, chemicals should be handled with care. (Girls, even the acetone that you use to remove nail polish from your nails can catch fire as soon as it comes in touch with an ignition source, i.e. fire.)

Coming to the rainbow experiment. It’s really fascinating to look at. What happens is, when elements such as Na, Sr, K, Li and Cu are mixed with methanol and ignited, they all burn in the colors of a rainbow. You can see its video here.

What went wrong with the rainbow experiment?

A teacher’s chemistry experiment exploded during a demonstration at Beacon High School in Manhattan on Thursday, creating a fireball that burned two 10th graders, one severely, according to Fire Department and school officials. – Chemjobber

It is better to be safe than sorry. As you can see, horrible things have happened, not only to grown-ups but also to children. This doesn’t meant you should avoid doing things that involve risks. Instead, you can do it in a safe way.

As students who had to work in a laboratory, we were told by our professor (Prof. Bhujle) to learn the safety aspects of our respective projects. For those who do not know me or what I was up to during my Masters degree, here’s what I did:

Process intensification using alternative energy source i.e. ultrasound irradiation (sonochemistry), which leads to decrease in energy consumption and waste reduction. Also investigated a Lewis acid catalyzed homogeneous organic condensation reaction and an ultrasound-assisted Pd-catalyzed heterogeneous transfer hydrogenation reaction.

Safety aspects associated with the project:

Ultrasound usage can be categorized as:

  • Low frequency, high power ultrasound (20–100 kHz)
  • High frequency, medium power ultrasound (100 kHz–1 MHz)
  • High frequency, low power ultrasound (1–10 MHz)

The equipment I used to generate ultrasound i.e. ultrasonic bath, runs on a 33 kHz frequency. Hence, it can be taken as low frequency, high power ultrasound.

Contact Exposures:

Contact exposure is exposure for which there is no intervening air gap between the transducer and the tissue. This may be via direct and intimate contact between the transducer and the tissue or it may be mediated by a solid or liquid. Contact exposure can in some cases provide nearly 100% energy transfer to tissue. [1] 33 kHz frequency ultrasonic bath can cause observable effects.

Airborne ultrasound:

The most plausible mechanisms for non-auditory effects of airborne ultrasound on a human are heating and cavitation. [1] An exposure limit for the general public to airborne ultrasound sound pressure levels (SPL) of 70 dB (at 20 kHz), and 100 dB (at 25 kHz and above). [2] The major effects of airborne ultrasound of concern in practice are the result of reception by the ear. To summarize, exposure to ultrasonic radiation, when sufficiently intense, appears to result in a syndrome involving manifestations of nausea, headache, tinnitus, pain, dizziness, and fatigue. The type of symptom and the degree of severity appear to vary depending upon the actual spectrum of the ultrasonic radiation and the individual susceptibility of the exposed persons, particularly their hearing acuity at high frequencies. A concise summary of the physiological effects of ultrasound with specific stated exposure conditions has been given by Acton.

Measures to be taken for safety:

  • Contact exposure to high-power ultrasound must be avoided at all times. [1]
  • Only operators qualified to use the equipment or persons under strict supervision should be allowed within the boundaries of the controlled area while the equipment is operating. [1]
  • Personnel using high-power ultrasound, and safety inspectors in industry should be knowledgeable about the possible harmful effects of ultrasound and necessary protective measures. [1]
  • Warning signs should be placed at the entrance to any area which contains high power ultrasound equipment or applied to each high power ultrasound device. Accompanying each warning sign there should also be a statement indicating the precautionary measures to be taken while the ultrasound power is on. [1]
  • Safety procedures for the protection of personnel are similar to those used for audible noise. The protection for ultrasonic frequencies is expected to be at least 14 dB for ear muffs and rubber ear plugs, and 24 dB for foam ear plugs. [1]

1. Guidelines for the Safe Use of Ultrasound Part II – Industrial & Commercial
Applications – Safety Code 24. Health Canada. ISBN 0-660-13741-0, (1991).
2. AGNIR (2010). Health Effects of Exposure to Ultrasound and Infrasound. Health
Protection Agency, UK, 167–170.

I’ll discuss transfer hydrogenation in subsequent blog posts.

Stay safe. ;)