• Question: What is the most harmful substance

    Asked by Melissa and shane to Anne, Florence, Mark, Neil, Sinead on 17 Nov 2015.
    • Photo: Neil Day

      Neil Day answered on 17 Nov 2015:

      Hi Melissa and Shane -very good question;
      There are a number of different substances that are very harmful. Radiation is particularly harmful as you can’t see it and it can stay around for many years, therefore you can receive a lethal dose before you know about it.

    • Photo: Mark Collins

      Mark Collins answered on 17 Nov 2015:

      There are so many very harmful substances and some that we use everyday that can be incredibly dangerous at high concentrations, a common one found in most homes is hydrogen peroxide-great for cleaning the floors at a concentration 1-2% (v/v) but when this is neat we use it rocket ships to send spaceships into outer space! I bet you will not look at that bottle of bleach the same again! If you were thinking of the most dangerous, chlorine trifluoride is particularly horrible and nasty. Although it has a huge effect on us everyday, it is used in the production of semiconductors for electronic processors so that mobile phone or computer you are reading this from-thanks to chlorine trifluoride as this ensures the equipment used producing the wafers are super-clean by destroying everything it comes close to and therefore the wafers can be produced cleaner and our doping of the silicon can be even smaller and smaller with more and more information included on the chips.

      And worth a mention is also fluoroantimonic acid, this is 10 quadrillion times stronger than concentrated sulphuric acid!

    • Photo: Sinead Balgobin

      Sinead Balgobin answered on 18 Nov 2015:

      There are many things that fall into different categories that are very harmful- drugs are just one of the categories, and since they all affect our bodies, they must be used responsibly (which is why we have recommended doses, and test new medicines very strictly before they are cleared for use).

      In the lab I always take care of substances that are corrosive (like strong acids or bases), can cause cancer or are very toxic, and especially those that are pyrophoric (can spontaneously set on fire in air).

    • Photo: Florence McCarthy

      Florence McCarthy answered on 18 Nov 2015:

      Some of the heavy metals are particularly toxic and in addition there are a series of drugs used to combat cancer that were used as chemical warfare in the early 1900’s (mustard gases). There is a lot of harm can be done with overexposure to anything so it is always important to be aware of the risks before you start.