Public Perceptions of Toxicity in Synthetic vs. Natural Chemicals

This is certainly not a new topic but the numbers are very interesting:

Synthetic Chemicals May Seem More "Toxic" Than Natural Chemicals, But They Aren't | RealClearScience?

More numbers:

Corrigendum to “Refined assessment and perspectives on the cumulative risk resulting from the dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the Danish population”


This is something that I have grumbled about for quite some time. It applies to GMO’s as well.

When people say that something is bad because it has “chemicals” in it, I will ask them if they would like some 100% natural hemlock tea. Some people get the reference. What is interesting is that those same people will sprinkle their food with salt, which is a non-organic chemical. They will also use sodium bicarbonate when they make baked goods, completely ignoring the fact they are using a chemical.

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That’s my gripe against all the ‘homeopathic’ and ‘holistic’ stuff, too, making it sound like ‘natural’ is intrinsically better somehow. Syphilis is natural.


I’ve sometimes had fun tormenting my organic food-loving friends by asking them what they were doing to avoid the huge variety of “natural pesticides” which permeate the plant kingdom. Some get genuinely frightened when I explain to them the “natural insecticides” and “natural herbicides” which are bio-weapons in the biochemical warfare of nature all around us.

When I was young growing up on a farm I knew neighboring gardeners who would grow flowers like chrysanthemums and marigolds among their vegetable garden rows in order to take advantage of the pyrethrins (to curb insect pests.)

And wherever there were black walnut trees one would usually find a lot of bare soil around them because their roots secrete herbicide poisons to decrease competition. In fact, people who grew tomatoes hated black walnut trees because the roots would extend quite a distance and destroy the tomato crop. (On the other hand, some people loved their black walnut trees because those were suitable for veneer table tops and cabinets. Our walnut trees had too many knots so they would sell for perhaps $50 to $100 wholesale back in the 1960’s—but I knew of a farmer who had ideal trees along a river bank and just one of his trees sold to a timber-buyer for $30,000. Some of his trees produced near perfect thin-veneer of the ideal tree-ring density for very expensive furniture, as in corporate boardroom conference tables which were twenty feet long but made from one continuous layer of veneer walnut.)

Some people are at least aware that nicotine is a “natural insecticide.” Not as many realize that the caffeine in coffee and tea leaves is also a pesticide for protecting the plants from leaf-chewing insects. So I’ve sometimes asked people, “Are you sure that you want to drink so much of that insecticide-tainted dark liquid?”


Here’s an interesting look at the natural herbicides in black walnut trees:

But speaking of natural, I am looking forward to more studies being done on turmeric/curcumin. It is an effective antibiotic against MRSA – I can personally attest to it based on one study that had a huge population of one. :slightly_smiling_face:

(Another interesting tidbit is that heat works marvelously against itching from insect bites and poison ivy for several hours of relief. Oh, and for bee stings and stingray stings, too. A dinner spoon heated in water is a good thing – just don’t get or give a second degree burn with it, is all.)

This site comes to mind

Issues related to the production of synthetic chemicals are behind a lot of the perceptions, I’m sure. Growing up in Staten island directly downwind of the NJ industrial heartland we got some of that. A comment of an Exxon PR rep in the local paper after another chemical spill always stuck with me: “Who is to say what is toxic? Fire warms us, but it can also burn us.” :slight_smile:

So is Cobra venom.