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Fear of Chemicals

Chemicals are those nasty man-made synthetic products that are destroying the environment and harming ourselves. This is how the general public and organic zealots in particular view chemicals. Nothing can be further from the truth – this is a common garden myth.

Nicotiana tabacum, a natural product nicotine

Nicotiana tabacum, produces natural product nicotine

 

What is a Chemical?

Wikipedia defines a chemical substance as “a form of matter that has constant chemical composition and characteristic properties that cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods”.  A simple definition might be a ‘pure substance’ such as table sugar, oxygen or vitamin C.

All animals, plants and humans are made up of thousands of chemicals. The air we breathe and the water we drink are also made up of chemicals. Proteins, fat, and vitamins are all chemicals. The vast majority of chemicals we encounter of a daily basis are essential to daily life. The term chemical and ‘bad’ are not synonymous.

Natural Products

The perception is that natural chemicals are safe and man made ones are harmful. That is not true. There are some very nasty natural chemicals. Take nicotine for example. This is just one of thousands of chemicals found in the tobacco plant. In the low doses found in cigarette smoke, it does very little short term harm. Long term it causes cancer and may kill you. Ingesting 100 mg of the pure nicotine will kill an adult. There are two important facts to understand here:

1) Chemicals found in nature can be very deadly

2) The level of chemical exposure is critical to understanding it’s effect on life.

Scientists are still trying to understand the long term effects of most chemicals, both natural and synthetic. In general, low levels of most chemicals seem to be safe.

The reality is that humans are exposed to many chemicals at low doses, every day. When you breathe the fresh air in your garden you inhale chemicals, both natural and man-made. When you touch anything – plants, flowers, soil, mulch – you get chemicals on your skin and some of these will be absorbed through the skin. Everything you eat, adds chemicals into your body. You might find this shocking, but it is true.

The good news is that most of the chemicals that you come into contact with are harmless since your body has been designed to deal with them. It simply degrades the chemical into useful building blocks for your body, or it expels them. Some chemicals are not so easily dealt with, but are in such small quantities that they do little known harm.

We need to stop fearing all chemicals.

Still not convinced? Have a look at these two posts; Chemicals in Coffee and Natural Pesticides.

References:

1) Photo Source: Wikipedia

Robert Pavlis
Editor of GardenMyths.com
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

One Response to 'Fear of Chemicals'

  1. Jim Creech says:

    Robert, I am glad I found your website (via your article on unfiltered garden ponds, one of which we have just built). Excellent, thoughtful writing – and my wife and I share your love of plants. With a background in chemistry, I especially appreciated and laughed as I read your article debunking the myth about chemicals! We have a huge perennial garden and large vegetable garden in northern Virginia. so we will look forward to learning more from your expertise!

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