Monday, 3 December 2007

Playing the "natural" card

From the BBC yesterday: Ozone protects against superbugs: "A nursing home in Suffolk is using a new natural oxygen-based disinfectant to counter the threat of superbugs ... Foxearth Nursing Home, near Woodbridge, has established new laundry systems using ozone - a natural disinfectant ... James Cantrell, home manager, said the new system gives them a great deal of confidence and it uses natural and freely available materials like oxygen".
      This is hardly cutting-edge: ozone-based laundry systems are increasingly popular, and it's a little hard to see why the BBC picked up on such a non-story. However, my criticism is that the story repeats a common and fallacious implication that being a natural substance imparts some touchy-feely positive quality. It doesn't. Ozone is toxic and irritant, and needs to be well-contained.
      Chemistry and biology don't care about the origins of a substance. A disinfectant could be made from moonbeams and the laughter of fluffy baa-lambs: but if it's toxic, it's toxic. One might consider that carbon and nitrogen are both natural and freely available materials, but no-one would argue for the naturalness of disinfecting laundry with cyanide.
      By the way, the Foxearth Lodge (the nursing home's full name) has some seriously strange equipment in its laundry: I wonder what the steam disaffection machines do?

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