Question: what is the worst chemical

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  1. You need to think more like a scientist on this one.
    Worst because it damages the environment? Worst because it kills people? I am sure you can think of other “worsts”
    My vote, however, might go to nerve gases. Chemical warfare is really nasty and kills many innocent people who are not directly involved in the fighting.


  2. Many chemicals can kill or injure people. Peter’s answer about chemical weapons is a good one and following the war theme, atomic weapons is another example. In the end, the worst kinds (if we mean resulting in death) are those which act quickly and give no chance to provide treatment. Poisonous gases are particularly bad because of how easily they spread. Look up “Bhopal disaster” for an idea of how chemical manufacturing can go wrong with the spread of toxic gas.


  3. Whichever one the chemistry exam is asking you about?! 😀 Chemistry was hard for me – I found biology easy, but apart from making green slime in year 9, I didn’t enjoy chemistry much in school!

    I think @mickcronin should give you a cracking answer to this one – it’s right up his alley 🙂


  4. Thanks @Mia for the challenge.

    @Jacques, like @Peter was suggesting, it all depends on what this chemical could be the ‘worst’ at doing/causing. If wondering what is the worst chemical to smell, then my favourites are cadaverine and putriscine. Both with probably help show you your lunch for a second time. Worst chemical to make a fire is probably carbon dioxide. Worst chemical if you’re an insect or small animal is probably chlorotoxin, a large chemical known as a complex amino acid. It is the name for the venom of the ‘deathstalker scorpion’.

    There are soooo many worst chemicals for human health. As @Peter said, chemical weapons like VX gas or mustards (not like the one you eat) could be a ‘worst for society’ because they can kill so many people with very little effort from a bad guy and injury or death is anything but quick and painless. Explosives including nuclear weapons are also chemicals or chemical reactions, they are also a ‘worst for society’ not just for the damage they can do, but the threat they cause which changes the way society behaves.

    Chemicals known as halogenated compounds are found all over the place like in paint cleaners and air conditioners. These chemicals are incredibly useful, but disastrous when in the wrong place. They have a great way of causing cancers in many types of animals including humans. They’re also the cause of ozone (in the ozone layer) destruction which ultimately leads to not only nasty sunburn and more cancers, but to global warming.

    A ‘worst for humans and society’ are also chemicals we would class as addictive drugs. Some of these illicit drugs we call illegal are so dangerous that one try can change your brain chemistry forever. Thats a reason why many people who take illegal drugs end up having their lives ruined.

    Most of my chemical experience has been with chemical weapons and explosives, I’d still say chemicals like water, oxygen and oil were even worse or perhaps most dangerous. Needed by everyone, but take them away and just watch what happens.


  5. The others have answered the “worst” question in terms of the effects on people, but in terms of hampering our ability to do astronomy, water (H20) and its derivatives (like OH) is probably the worst! These molecules cause problems because they a) block a lot of the light that comes from beyond the atmosphere, making it very hard to study anything farther away than 100 kilometers, and b) they emit a lot of radiation at infrared wavelengths, thereby swamping the light that we might want to see from beyond the atmosphere! There are new technologies that I am working on to help reduce these problems, but the best solution at present is still to avoid H20 and OH in the atmosphere entirely by launching satellites above the atmosphere. Our remotely-controlled telescopes certainly can thrive there, even if we ourselves cannot!



  1. Just seeing the words ‘cadaverine’ (as in cadaver, like a dead body) and ‘putriscine’ (as in putrid like something rotting) made me gag. No smoke or mirrors or tricksy language when they named those ones! They must smell AWFUL!