Have you ever been in a social setting and someone asks what you do for a living? You pop up your chest, stand a little straighter and reply ‘I’m in the Chemical Business’. Or, do you actually stand up straighter? Rather you might temper your answer depending on the audience.
I imagine the chemical industry is celebrated in places like Houston, Delhi, Antwerp, Singapore, and Shanghai – but in Seattle, there is an audience always ready to malign our chosen profession at any opportunity. Sometimes I am in position at the family dinner table to have to argue (i.e. defend) my positions on things like why the XL Pipeline should cut across Nebraska, and have documented my thoughts on fracking as a necessary technology risk while alternate energies become more viable.
At a convention of the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) a few years ago, I got into a choice discussion with a female guest who spent much of the day roller blading while our group was in sessions. When she took the time to ask about our business, she came over the top with the usual ‘chemicals are bad’ generalizations and I proceeded to explain to her how chemicals were rooted into her life (products in her hair, makeup, pigments in clothes, textile chemistry, etc..). The best moment for me was when I focused on the wheels of her roller blades and was able to talk about the reaction of such substances as Isocyanate and Polymer being reacted to create PolyUrethane Resin, basically the entire wheel. And every time she slid on those wheels, a little slice of this nastiness is released to the environment. So much for her ‘green’ workout.
I have found that the ‘counter-chemical’ discussions are often rooted in lack of knowledge (bordering on ignorance), and while those arguments rooted in multi-syllabic words sound good and often hopeful, they often lack any realistic or viable suggestions/alternatives. I won’t choose to get stuck into the BPA argument for bottles and containers (and as long as there are also proven safe alternatives am fine with buying those), and there are many special interests regarding individual chemistries. The BPA matter is one where through experience and development; better, and safer products were developed for similar applications. I call this progress!, not an indictment on the chemical industry.
The vast majority of people have no idea how diverse certain chemical products are. Propylene Glycol is used as an additive in food, toothpastes, and pharmaceuticals (i.e. entering the human body) while the same product is used as an anti-freeze, a precursor to Polyurethanes (see Roller Blade Wheels above!) and oil dispersant in industrial applications.
I am proud to be in the chemical industry. Was it my lifetime passion as a young man (Answer = no), but as many of us do – we find our way into the industry by some strange turn of events. As I advise our young employees, every day we spend in the industry is another that makes it tougher to leave. The more we learn and know, the more we contribute to our company’s bottom line (and our own). I’ve enjoyed these 25 years, and hope to enjoy many more.
Our company is a member of numerous associations (such as NACD) which promote the education of safety around chemicals and regulatory compliance. No one can prevent the ‘bad actors’ from their activities, but we do whatever we can to promote safety and well-being, and I know many of my colleagues, competitors, and readers do the same.
Do you find yourself defending your position in the industry? Why you are in it? The things you do on a daily basis to encourage harming the environment? I would would like to hear anyone’s personal experience, and welcome any/all comments.