by Kurt Vonnegut is arguably the ultimate story of the environmental impact of a particular chemical, in this case a more-stable than liquid water allotrope called ice-nine. It is released to the environment and, of course, freezes
all liquid water solid.
In a similar vein, Steven King wrote a short story The End of the Whole Mess, about the discovery of a special chemical that reduces human aggression. The protagonists disperse it worldwide to achieve world peace. It is only later that the longer
term effects of dementia leading to death were discovered, at which point it was too late to stop it.
Both, of course, spring from the countless examples of chemical breakthroughs that have eventually displayed significant undesired consequences - thalidomide, asbestos, fen-phen, phthalates, erythromycin, DDT etc. just to name a few - literally pick your
poison. Monona maintains a similar list five thousand feet long in 8 point type, I'd wager.
Other examples involve any movie with nerve gas as a central theme - for example,
The Rock (Nicholas Cage, Sean Connery try to stop terrorists on Alcatraz armed with chemical rockets). In Moon Raker (James Bond), the antagonist plans to sterilize the Earth with globes of nerve gas dispersed from low orbit.
Various biohazard/plague movies exist - 28 Weeks Later and The Omega Man. Also Steven King's
The Andromeda Strain ties safety protocols and biohazards together very well. I guess, arguably, the
Alien series of movies is also a good biosafety control lesson. Remember, always declare your alien parasite when passing through Space Customs...
The China Syndrome is a good example of a a coverup culture in place of safety culture, and a nuclear disaster results.
The Day After Tomorrow- which is what you get for ignoring global warming. You can also apparently ignore basic science. The scene where the outdoor temperature drops 100 degrees in a minute without a wisp of wind had me tearing my hair out.
A big one is, of course, Breaking Bad - the TV series about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin.
A classic example is Flubber, which is about 10^5 times better than its remake,
The Manhattan Project - the 1986 movie about a kid from Ithaca, NY who builds an atomic bomb as a science project has a good deal of chemistry/physics and safety in it.
One non-fiction example is Awakenings - the discovery of the beneficial effects of L-Dopa.
OK, enough - I have to start working on my own talk!
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I'm thinking about the safety culture presentations I'll be giving next week (better before the presentation than during) and one question that occurred to me is "what examples of science fiction are there that are primarily focused
on chemistry and/or chemical safety as a key topic?" I suspect that there are people who are better versed in this literature than I and I'd appreciate examples that come quickly to mind.
I'd also be interested in examples of specific books you may have had as children (age 12 and under) that got you interested in science outside of school.
Thanks for any information on these questions.
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Chemical Hygiene Officer
Keene State College