Who’s afraid of bromine?



Bromine looks sinister – like something you might find on Dr Frankenstein’s workbench. But are people sometimes too hard on compounds made from element 35 of the periodic table?

As you read this article, you are probably surrounded by bromine – in the chair or sofa you are sitting on. In the carpet on your floor, the curtains at your window, perhaps even the walls of your house. And in the computer whose screen you are staring at.

All these things are likely to contain unnatural substances such as polybrominated diphenyl ether or hexabromocyclododecane. Bromine-based chemicals have also found their way into food and drinking water – indeed until recently they were added to drinks like Fanta and Gatorade.

Some of these chemicals have been shown to be dangerous to human health, and have been banned or withdrawn. Yet the bromine industry claims it is the victim of “chemophobia” – an irrational public prejudice against chemicals borne out of ignorance and misinformation.

Bromine saves lives, they point out.

There is no denying that pure bromine is extremely unpleasant. It derives its name from the Greek for “stench”, and it is a particularly vicious material – just ask Andrea Sella of University College London.

“When I was at school nobody had warned me about how nasty this stuff was,” the chemistry professor ruefully recalls, as he pours some of the toxic red liquid into a beaker, where it sits under a smog-like haze of heavy brown vapour.

Find out more

In Elementary Business, BBC World Service’s Business Daily goes back to basics and examines key chemical elements – and asks what they mean for businesses and the global economy.

Bromine is one of the halogens – the group of four elements that occupy the penultimate column of the periodic table. And it is probably the least well known – chlorine we know from swimming pools, iodine from antiseptics, and fluorine from toothpaste.

Being a halogen, bromine atoms are one electron short of a complete outer shell, which makes them highly reactive, readily bonding with other atoms. That is why pure bromine is so dangerous to handle, and also why you never come across it in nature.

Instead, bromine is commonly found in highly un-reactive bromide salts – in much the same way that the poisonous green gas chlorine is commonly found in boring sodium chloride, table salt.

To illustrate the point, Andrea drops some aluminium foil into his beaker of bromine. It bursts into intense flames. When the fire burns out, all that is left is a residue of aluminium and bromide salts.

Aluminium bromine reaction

It was from naturally occurring salt waters that two chemists independently discovered bromine two centuries ago – the German Carl Jacob Lowig from mineral water in 1825, and the Frenchman Antoine Balard from salt marsh seaweeds in 1826. Both used chlorine gas to displace the bromine atoms from their salt solutions, producing the characteristic acrid fumes of the new element.

Today, bromine is extracted on an industrial scale from salt lakes that are especially rich in the element, above all the Dead Sea.

Satellite image of the Dead Sea and  evaporation ponds

“The Dead Sea has the highest concentration in the world of bromine,” says Ilan Elkan of Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) at the company’s bromine facility, the world’s biggest. “This is the gift of nature. Like Saudi Arabia has the gift of oil, we have the gift of bromine.” He claims it will last thousands of years, far longer than Middle Eastern oil.

ICL draws water down from the Dead Sea into a vast network of evaporation ponds that use the sun’s energy to concentrate the minerals. The thickened brines then flow through a series of chemical works that extract potash, magnesium metal and chlorine from the salts – and bromine.

Much of this toxic end-product is then shipped all over the world in gigantic lead-lined tanks – Ilan insists they have never had a spillage. Yet, as hazardous to human health as elemental bromine is, it is actually the products it goes into that have caused the real alarm.

Tanks of bromine

The earliest use of bromine was in medicines. Some bromide salts, notably potassium bromide, were found to be natural sedatives, and were prescribed in the 19th Century as a remedy for epilepsy.

However, they had a curious side-effect. They dampened the libido, which only reinforced the common misconception at the time that epilepsy was brought on by excessive masturbation. This side-effect also lies behind the urban myth that bromide was added to the tea of prisoners and World War I soldiers in order to reduce sexual urges.

For most of the 20th Century, the main use of bromine was something now known to have been seriously damaging to public health. When lead first started being added to petrol to improve engine performance, it was found that deposits built up, eventually clogging the engine.

The solution was to add brominated chemicals to the petrol. As the fuel burnt, the bromine combined with the lead, producing lead bromide. This readily passed out through the exhaust, but of course then proceeded to spread the poisonous heavy metal throughout our cities.

Leaded – and brominated – petrol is no more. But the biggest modern use of bromine, accounting for 41% of the market, has also sparked controversy.

“Imagine you’re watching your television, and halfway through a soccer game your TV catches fire,” says ICL’s deputy president Anat Tal at their head office in Beersheva, southern Israel. “You have three minutes of escape time. What do you do? You just run!

“Now imagine the escape time is five-to-10 times more, because inside your TV is a brominated flame retardant. This is the story of flame retardants.”

A fire is a self-perpetuating chemical reaction in which the high temperature encourages fuel to combine with oxygen in the air, further raising the temperature in the process. Bromine disrupts this chemical reaction. Because the bromine is itself so hyper-reactive, in effect it cue-jumps the oxygen and re-bonds with the fuel, rendering it inert.

Elementary Business

Various elements


Brominated flame retardants crop up in a surprising number of places. From a bag, Anat produces, Mary Poppins-style, a series of products – white beads that are mixed into the plastic casings and circuit-boards of TVs and computers, fluffy yellow pillow stuffing that refuses to catch fire, and blue polystyrene bricks that are used as cavity wall insulation in homes.

So what’s the problem with these products?

Well, take for example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which used to be widely used to prevent materials from melting. No longer. “It’s pretty dangerous if it gets into the human body,” explains chemical industry analyst Laura Syrett of Industrial Minerals. “It can cause cancer, developmental disorders, thyroid problems.”

Or how about hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) – the chemical in Anat’s blue cavity wall insulation. It is set to be banned in the EU next year, after an academic study in Texas in 2012 found that tiny amounts of the stuff were getting into some supermarket foods.

The retardants are organic molecules – an entirely different class of chemical from bromide salts – that can take years to decompose. And although they should be tied up inside plastics and other materials, when they do get free they tend to accumulate through the food chain – meaning top predators such as humans face a particular risk of these chemicals slowly building up in our bodies.

This highlights an unavoidable problem for the chemicals industry – much of what they do is still a learning process, and it often takes many years for the long-term risks inherent in a particular product to emerge. Yet it is also important to get these risks in perspective. So far, there are no known cases of brominated fire retardants actually causing anyone major health problems – they are being banned because of the potential hazard they pose. Meanwhile, these chemicals have undoubtedly saved people from the very real risk of burning to death in their own homes, although there is some dispute whether that amounts to the thousands per year claimed by the industry.

But Laura Syrett says the industry also labours under another problem – “chemophobia”.

As an example she cites brominated vegetable oil or BVO, which was commonly added as an emulsifier in soft drinks such as Fanta and Gatorade. Without BVO or a substitute, the orange colour would gravitate to the bottom of your bottle, leaving the top half clear. Something similar would happen to the flavour.

Gatorade being poured over a sportsmanGatorade no longer contains BVO

In 2013 Buzzfeed published an article with the title “8 Foods We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries”. The list included BVO – banned in the EU and Japan – which it claimed was “linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss”.

Pepsi and Coca Cola insisted BVO was safe. Nonetheless, a petition on Change.org gathered 200,000 signatures, and both companies have since stopped using the chemical.

Was the campaign against BVO rational? The chemistry blogger Derek Lowe points out that the few people known to have suffered health problems (none of which were quite like those listed by Buzzfeed) were drinking a vast amount of BVO-containing drinks – in the order of two to four litres per day.

Another controversial case, according to Laura Syrett, is connected with fracking. In 2011, tests of drinking water wells in Pennsylvania found increased levels of bromide salts – the same kind of stuff that supposedly makes people prefer an early night with a hot water bottle – linked to fracking activity at the Marcellus shale deposit.

Bromide salts are widely used in oil and gas drilling. Being near the bottom of the periodic table, bromine atoms are heavy. Dissolve its salts in water and you get an exceptionally heavy brine that can be used to stabilise high pressure wells and stop them collapsing.

In the end, an error was found in the Marcellus tests – in reality only one well showed elevated bromide levels, not seven as originally reported. One case, Syrett suggests, is a long way from proving a causal connection.

At ICL, Anat complains that her company hears via the media and NGOs “almost on a daily basis… all kinds of things that are not scientifically proven”. Meanwhile, she points out, tourists are happy to come and bathe in the Dead Sea, with the world’s highest concentration of bromide at 0.5%, because of its “healthy” mineral salts.

People swimming in the Dead Sea

The criticisms sting for an industry that feels it is actually doing a lot of good for the world. Besides fire retardants, one of the biggest new uses of bromine is in capturing mercury in the coal burned in power stations – in much the same way that it used to capture lead in the petrol burned in your car engine, except that this time it actually helps to stop the emission of a poisonous metal into the air.

As Anat laments: “The bromine industry has not done a very good job in PR, in educating people that there are chemicals there that save your life and keep you safe.”

It certainly does not help that so many of the chemicals they produce have such terrifyingly long and alien names… polybrominated diphenyl ether and hexabromocyclododecane, for example.

To put it another way, who would drink coffee if they knew it contained 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione (caffeine)? Especially if you added a spoonful of ((2R,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[(2S,3S,4S,5R)-3,4-dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxapent-2-yl]oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxahexane-3,4,5-triol) – better known as sugar?

Facebook drones the size of planes?

Facebook is considering flying giant drones above us as the social network “figures out how to connect the world”.

Chinese stealth drone
Not flying overhead just yet… this is a Chinese stealth drone

The idea to develop huge unmanned aircraft comes from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, set up by company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The aim is to make the internet available to two-thirds of the world’s population who can’t currently get online.

They say expanding internet access would create another 140 million jobs.

And they say it could help lift 160 million people out of poverty, and reduce child mortality.

The lab’s engineering director Yael Maguire revealed the drone plan at the 2014 Social Good Summit in New York.

Yael Maguire from Facebook's Connectivity Lab
Yael Maguire at the 2014 Social Good Summit

He didn’t actually use the word “drone” but said that unmanned “planes roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747” would serve as huge connectivity hubs and could one day stay up in the air for months, even years, at a time.

‘Above the weather’

Maguire explained: “In order for us to fly these planes we actually have to fly above the weather, above all airspace. That’s between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. Routinely, planes don’t fly there, and certainly not drones.”

He said the aircraft will be much lighter, adding that one of the models being worked on by the Connectivity Lab is the length of “about six or seven Priuses, but is the weight of four of the tires of a Prius”.

To continuously provide wi-fi coverage the planes will be powered by the sun.

Maguire added that the aircraft could be tested in the US as early as next year, although the strict rules around unmanned aircraft could slow down that process.

How one of Facebook's drones could look.
How one of Facebook’s drones could look

Facebook is not the only tech firm exploring the use of drones.

Google is known to be building and testing autonomous aerial vehicles to use for goods deliveries at its secret development centre, Google X, in California.

Google is also looking at balloons to bring internet access to remote parts of the world.

DHL has begun delivering by drone to a remote island in Germany.

And Amazon has created “Octocopters” to deliver parcels to its customers in the US.

Can Diet Affect Multiple Sclerosis?

A new study of dietary patterns and risk for multiple sclerosis finds no relationship between eating a high-quality, healthy diet and a lower risk of getting MS.

Although the researchers looked at the diets from 185,000 women participating in other large studies, they focused on diets in adults only. It’s possible that diet in adolescence may be more important regarding risk for MS.

Dalia Rotstein, MD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says that “further research is required to determine the possible role of dietary quality in the early years.”

She presented the research at MS Boston 2014, the 2014 Joint Americas and European Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis meeting.

Still, other studies presented at the same session of the conference showed that people with MS who also had other medical conditions have more MS disability. With this in mind, Rotstein tells Medscape Medical News, “We do know that healthy diet can help people in general and reduce other [conditions in people who have MS], especially cardiovascular disease, so this will help MS in the long run.”

Another study presented at the meeting showed no effect of a plant-based diet very low in saturated fat on MS, although numbers of people in the study were small.

It was linked to less fatigue, though, along with improvements in body mass index and total cholesterol. This caused the researchers to conclude that “a diet very low in saturated fats may yield longer-term quality-of-life benefits and vascular health benefits” in people with MS.

Adolescence: A Critical Window?

On this point, Rotstein says obesity in adolescence has shown a strong link to a greater risk of getting MS. But studies in adults have been more mixed, and obesity in adults has not been definitely linked with an increased MS risk.

“Our study was conducted purely in adults, with a youngest age of 25,” she says. “All we can say from our results is that there does not appear to be a direct relationship between diet quality and risk of developing MS as an adult. We cannot say anything about eating habits in adolescence and risk of MS from these data. It is possible that the adolescent years are a critical window, but our study doesn’t answer that question.”

She also says the “high-quality” diets evaluated in this study were all aimed at preventing cardiovascular disease. “It is possible that different patterns would be better for preventing immunological diseases, but we don’t know that.”

“I have many MS patients who believe that diet may have affected them developing the disease,” she adds, “and they feel guilty that they cannot or did not comply with a healthy diet — so these results can provide some reassurance in that regard.”

Rotstein says although a specific MS diet hasn’t yet been found, there was a great deal of support for vitamin D. “The one nutritional factor that has been shown time and time again to be linked to MS is vitamin D deficiency. I tell all my patients to take vitamin D supplements, but other than that I think it is an open question as to whether other dietary factors affect the disease.”

Low-Saturated-Fat Diet

The other study presented here by Vijayshree Yadav, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University, and colleagues, looked at a low-saturated-fat diet in MS. The study was inspired by the work of Dr. Roy Swank in the 1950s. Swank suggested that people who ate high amounts of saturated fat were at higher risk for MS.

The study evaluated a plant-based diet very low in saturated fat known as the McDougall diet. The makeup of the diet is estimated at 10% fat, 14% protein, and 76% carbohydrate, with a focus on starches such as potatoes, corn, rice, beans, oats, fruits, and vegetables. Meat, fish, and dairy are not recommended.

For the study, 61 participants were randomly assigned to this diet or to a different group. The diet group got dietary training in a 10-day program and then completed monthly food-frequency questionnaires for 1 year.

Results showed no discernible effect on the MS disease process. But the researchers say the study was probably too small and had too short a follow-up to detect such changes.

They did find improvement in fatigue, though. People in the diet group also lost an average of 20 pounds in weight and had improved cholesterol andmental health scores.

Seven reasons to ditch Big Pharma’s antibiotics

Since the 1940s, antibiotics have become the standard treatment for bacterial infections. Most believe that pharmaceutical antibiotics are a miracle “silver bullet” for infectious diseases and that antibiotics alone were responsible for curtailing the major life-threatening, infectious diseases plaguing humanity.


According to Thomas McKeown, MD, author of The Role of Medicine, “Deaths from common infections were declining long before effective medical intervention was possible.” [1] View graphs here.

(1) Mutant Bacteria

In 1947, when penicillin was rolled out for mass production, the first bacterium resistant to it was soon discovered, Staphylococcus aureus. The fact is that antibiotics, even when used appropriately, can create mutant bacteria. [2]

In fact, the highest rates of methicillin-resistant S. aureus infections are correlated with the countries that prescribe the most antibiotics. In 2009, Norway had one of the lowest rates of hospital infections in the world.

Why? Approximately 30 years ago, Norway made a pivotal decision to reduce overall antibiotic use to only what was necessary. [3]

(2) Weakened Immune System

Peter J. D’Adamo, ND, is a naturopathic physician and author known for his pioneering research on the interconnectedness of human blood groups, lifestyle, nutrition and health.

Dr. D’Adamo explained, “When you allow your body to go to war on its own terms, without antibiotic intervention, it develops not only a memory of specific antibodies to the current infection and any similar to it, but also the ability to fight more effectively the next time it is challenged or attacked.”

In other words, the invaders are getting stronger, but our immune systems are less prepared to handle them. [4]

Antibiotics suppress the immune system, as opposed to merely assisting it to do its job more effectively. In fact, antibiotics “cut off immune response.” They can reduce the level of infection, but they cannot eradicate it; only the immune system can do that. [5]

(3) Recurring Infections

Scientific research has revealed that those treated with antibiotics succumb to recurring infections more frequently than those who do not use antibiotics. For example, children with ear infections who are prescribed antibiotics routinely suffer from repeat infections. [6]

(4) Fungal and Bacterial Overgrowths

Fungal and bacterial overgrowths caused by antibiotics exude endotoxins (toxins produced within the body), which suppress the immune system. They destroy the “communication pathways between cells of the immune system”

ImmuneDisorders.Homestead.com explains,”Without these pathways in operation, immune cells don’t attack. Healthy gut flora supports immune function but does not replace those communication pathways.” [7]

(5) Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Repeated antibiotic use has been linked with chronic viral illness including chronic fatigue syndrome. [8]

(6) AIDS

AIDS research indicates that a risk factor for AIDS is an impaired immune response, which can be linked to a history of repeated antibiotic use. Perhaps it is no accident the that same group with the highest incidence of AIDS is also a group that uses more antibiotics than other groups in America. [8]

(7) Cancer Links

The BMJ reported that those who had taken six or more antibiotic prescriptions had a 1.5 greater risk of less common cancers compared with study participants who had the lowest antibiotic exposure. [9]

A 2002 Finish study found breast cancer risk accelerated with increased antibiotic exposure. [10]

A 2008 study by the International Journal of Cancer reported: “Those who had taken 2-5 antibiotic prescriptions had a 27% increase in
cancers compared to those who took none.
Those who took six or more prescriptions had a 37% increase in
cancers.” [8]

Widespread, repetitive antibiotic use could permanently cause generational, deleterious changes to microbiota and the immune system. [11]

Sources for this article include:

[1] http://www.naturalnews.com

[2] http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com

[3] http://www.staph-infection-resources.com

[4] http://www.genotypediet.com

[5] http://immunedisorders.homestead.com

[6] http://immunedisorders.homestead.com

[7] http://immunedisorders.homestead.com

[8] http://www.drlwilson.com

[9] http://www.bmj.com

[10] http://draxe.com

[11] http://chriskresser.com


Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/046990_antibiotics_Big_Pharma_immune_system.html#ixzz3EQyux0cy

Nuclear spins control electrical currents.

Photograph of University of Utah physicist Christoph Boehme

An international team of physicists has shown that information stored in the nuclear spins of hydrogen isotopes in an organic LED (OLED) can be read out by measuring the electrical current through the device. Unlike previous schemes that only work at ultracold temperatures, this is the first to operate at room temperature, and therefore could be used to create extremely dense and highly energy-efficient memory devices.

With the growing demand for ever smaller, more powerful electronic devices, physicists are trying to develop more efficient semiconductors and higher-density data-storage devices. Motivated by the fact that traditional silicon semiconductors are susceptible to significant energy losses via waste heat, scientists are investigating the use of organic semiconductors. These are organic thin films placed between two conductors and they promise to be more energy efficient than silicon semiconductors. Furthermore, the availability of many different types of organic thin film could help physicists to optimize the efficiency of these devices.

Chip and spin

Conventional memory chips store data in the form of electrical charge. Moving this charge around the chip generates a lot of waste heat that must be dissipated, which makes it difficult to miniaturize components and also reduces battery life. An alternative approach is to store information in the spins of electrons or atomic nuclei – with spin-up corresponding to “1” and spin-down to “0”, for example. This could result in memories that are much denser and more energy efficient than the devices used today.

Atomic nuclei are particularly attractive for storing data because their spins tend to be well shielded from the surrounding environment. This means that they could achieve storage times of several minutes, which is billions of times longer than is possible with electrons. The challenge, however, is how to read and write data to these tiny elements.

Now, Christoph Boehme and colleagues at the University of Utah, along with John Lupton of the University of Regensburg and researchers at the University of Queensland, have shown that the flow of electrical current in an OLED can be modulated by controlling the spins of hydrogen isotopes in the device. “Electrical current in an organic semiconductor device is strongly influenced by the nuclear spins of hydrogen, which is abundant in organic materials,” explains Lupton. The team has shown that the current flowing through a plastic polymer OLED can be tuned precisely, suggesting that inexpensive OLEDs can be used as efficient semiconductors.

Just like MRI

Boehme and his team applied a small magnetic field to their test OLED, which creates an energy difference between the orientations of the nuclear spins of protons and deuterium (both hydrogen isotopes). The researchers then used radio-frequency signals to alter the directions of the spins of the protons and deuterium nuclei – a process that is also done during a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) experiment.

The changes to the nuclear spins affect the spins of nearby electrons, and this results in changes to the electrical current. The magnetic forces between the nuclear and electron spins are millions of times smaller than the electrical forces needed to cause a similar change in current. This suggests that the effect could be used to create energy-efficient semiconductor memories.

This recent work follows on from research done in 2010, when Boehme and colleagues showed that the technique could be used to control current in a device made from phosphorus-doped silicon. However, this was only possible in the presence of strong magnetic fields and at temperatures within a few degrees of absolute zero. Such conditions are impractical for commercial devices, but the OLED-based device needs neither ultracold temperatures nor high magnetic fields.

Time to relax

“In organic semiconductors, the spin-relaxation time does not change significantly with temperature,” explains Lupton. “In contrast, the spin-relaxation time in phosphorus-doped silicon increases significantly when the temperature is lowered; so in phosphorus-doped silicon, the experiments had to be carried out at low temperatures and high magnetic fields.”

The team believes that its technique should also work with other nuclei with non-zero spin, with some limitations. “Since protons and deuterium are both hydrogen isotopes, they can be interchanged in the synthesis without changing the chemical structure of the polymer, which may not be possible with other types of nuclei,” Lupton explains. “Tritium, the third hydrogen isotope, is radioactive, so would not be much good in experiments.”

The Healing & Beautifying Benefits of Avocado Leave Tea.

You may have heard that avocados are wonderful for your health, but did you know the leaves from an avocado could provide some amazing health benefits also? Well, the leaves can! In fact, the leaves contain medicinal properties in them that help heal the body from common ailments. Best of all, they also contain antioxidants and astringent properties that help keep the skin youthful and beautiful naturally.


In order to receive the health and beautifying benefits from the avocado leaves you could make a medicinal tea.

  1. To do that, all you would need to place about a few tablespoons of dried crushed avocado leaves into three to four cups of boiling water. This can be done in a large mug or in a teapot.
  2. After, all the leaves and boiling water to steep for 20-minutes to make a potent healing and beautifying beverage.
  3. Once it is ready, add in some honey and sip it down as it is. You could also dip a cotton cloth into the warm tea and use it to cleanse the skin.

Doing this is soothing and calming to blemishes and can help reduce redness greatly.

Avocado leave tea is also beneficial to relieving kidney disease symptoms.

It does this by cleansing the kidneys from impurities and toxins so they can function better when it comes to flushing waste out of the body. However, a liter throughout the day and one before bedtime is necessary in order to receive the full benefits this tea can provide to the kidneys.

Other health conditions avocado leave tea can help relieve are hypertension, dry skin, inflammatory diseases and thrush.

If you are suffering from a bacterial infection the tea can help rid it from your body. The leaves have a medicinal property in it that has the ability to kill the bacteria of Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Escherichea and Bacillus.

Along with this property it contains a pain relieving one too, which makes these leaves perfect for ease toothaches, headaches, lower back pains and menstrual cramps. Some even find sipping on a cup of this goodness effective at relieving migraine headaches also.

The next time you need relief from a common ailment such as kidney and skin ones, try sipping on a few cups of hot avocado tea to achieve the relief you need naturally instead of using over the counter medication. However, it is best to speak with a doctor or herbalist first to make sure avocado leaves are safe and right for you.





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