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Book Review Metals and Their Compounds in the Environment Occurrence Analysis and Biological Relevance. Edited by E

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Ni, Pb, platinum-group metals, Ag, Se, Sn, Ta, Te, Ti, T1, W
U and its decay products, Th and its decay products, V, Y
Metals and Their Compounds in the Environment: Occurrence, Analysis and Biological Relevance. Edited by E.
Merian. VCH Verlagsgesellschaft, Weinheim/VCH Publishers, New York, 1991. xxiii, 1438 pp., hardcover
DM 380.00.-ISBN 3-527-26521-X
A person unaware of the problems associated with shortages of essential elements and with excesses of toxic elements
is difficult to find. Even newspapers and magazines discuss
(not always in the spirit of providing scientifically sound
information) the effects of metals and metalloids (or more
generally of trace elements) on the environment and on the
health of man, animals, and plants. No one, not the common
person, not the experts in medical, scientific and technical
disciplines, and especially not the servants of the public at all
levels of government, can afford not to be informed about
these important issues. Unfortunately these issues are in
most cases not clear-cut. Rarely was all the information necessary for a decision at the disposal of even the experts, and
hardly ever was the available information easily accessible
from a single source. This situation has changed: one handy,
although rather heavy, volume provides a wealth of information about metals and their compounds in the environment.
Should the information presented prove not to be detailed
enough, more can be gleaned from the publications given in
the references.
“Metals and Their Compounds in the Environment” consists of two parts. The first part (700 pages) covers general
aspects in 20 chapters including cycles of metals in nature;
production and processing of metals; chemical processes in
the environment; relevance of chemical speciation; analytical chemistry; metal concentrations in human samples;
bioindicators for monitoring metals; metals and their compounds in water, in the atmosphere, in soils, in sludges and
wastes, as well as in the indoor environment; mobilization
from sediments; metals in and their effects on plants, animals, and humans; metals in feed and food; essentiality of
metals; interactions between metals; cell biochemistry of
metals; metallothionines; acute and chronic toxicity, immunotoxicology, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, ecogenetics of metals; standard setting, risk assessment,
and legislative regulations concerning metals. Environmental radioactivity is not discussed, with the exception of radioactivity associated with uranium, thorium, and their decay products.
The second part (700 pages) provides information about
the following elements: Al, As, Au, Be, Bi, Cd, Co, Cu, Cr,
Fe, Ga, Ge, In, the lanthanides, Hg, Li, Mg, Mn, Mo, Nb,
0 VCH Verlugsgesellschu/t
mbH, W-6940 Weinheim, I992
Zn, and Zr. Each of these chapters has sections on physical
and chemical properties of an element and its environmentally important compounds; analytical methods for their determination; sources, production, important compounds,
uses, waste products, and recycling; their distribution in the
environment, in foods, and in living organisms; uptake, absorption, transport and distribution, metabolism and elimination in plants, animals, and humans; effects on plants,
animals, and humans; hazard evaluation and limiting concentrations; a list of review articles and original publications
arranged alphabetically according to authors; and a list of
additional recommended literature. A very useful 22-page
glossary and a 65-page subject index close this volume.
The editor stated in the preface: “The book aims to
provide.. . a balanced presentation of the topic ‘Metals in the
Environment’ based on up-to-date international scientific
knowledge. For this purpose it was necessary to compile,
examine, and critically evaluate the most recent comprehensive and widely distributed literature, and present the results
in a unified and well-structured form. In addition the conclusions reached at many symposia have been included ...
Eighty-six scientific experts carried out an interdisciplinary
evaluation, incorporating important results from all five
continents; previous publications very often only concentrated either on North American or on European literature ... An attempt has been made to assess the ecological
and toxicological risks on the basis of national and international requirements, for example, recommended exposure
limits. In addition to environmental evidence, the discussion
is also based on experience from allied fields, such as industrial medicine and clinical chemistry. In controversial cases,
in which certain questions have not yet been resolved, diverging opinions have been equally considered as far as possible.” What the editor and his co-workers set out to do, they
have accomplished. I know of no other book about metals in
the environment that presents information in such an up-todate, compact, and well-structured manner. Whenever summaries and overviews are written, the compression of information leads to losses in details. Experts working on the
frontiers of research will certainly find statements in these
chapters with which they cannot agree. They might consider
formulations to be too general, perhaps somewhat misleading. As a chemist, I found the sections on the physical and
chemical properties of the elements and their compounds of
nonuniform coverage and quality. Frequently, information
is given which does not aid in understanding the connection
between the chemistry of an element and its environmental
impact; often chemical facts of great importance are not
presented; and on occasion incorrect statements are uncritically taken from the literature.
Random examples illustrate this criticism: Aluminum hydroxide with its pH-dependent solubility is not mentioned.
Frequently confusion reigns about oxidation number, valency, and ionic charge. The myth about a cationic chemistry of
arsenic in the + 3 oxidation state in aqueous solution is presented as a fact. To claim that arsenic in triinethylarsine
oxide has one of the lowest oxidation states is pushing the
oxidation state concept beyond acceptable limits. Incorrect
formulas occur infrequently (NaBiO,, AsO,, As,Se). The
statement that lithium and the other alkali metals do not
form stable complexes is much too general. Dimethyl derivatives of selenium and tellurium-important in biological sys-
0570-0833/92/0IOI-0102 3 3 . 5 0 i ,2510
Angew. Chem. hi.Ed. Engl. 31 (1992) N o . 1
tems-are not mentioned, whereas rather exotic compounds
(TeOCI,, TeF,) are included.
These irritating details as well as some halting sentences
could (and should) have been corrected during the editing
process. A few typing errors also slipped through. Elements
that should have been included are barium, silicon, and perhaps fluorine and iodine.
These minor criticisms must not, however, distract from
the great value of this volume. I heartily recommend that all
who are interested in metals in the environment buy a copy.
These include the scientists from numerous fields concerned
with effects of metal compounds listed in the preface of this
book (geologists, metallurgists, material scientists, chemists,
analytical chemists, environmental engineers, security experts. waste disposal engineers, biochemists, biologists, toxicologists, ecotoxicologists, veterinarians, industrial hygienists, physicians, teachers, administrators, and decisionmakers) and interested lay people and all those who already
own the much shorter first edition of this book in German.
Kurt J: Irgolic
Institut fur Analytische Chemie
der Universitat Graz (Austria)
Contrasts in Scientific Style. Research Groups in the Chemical
and Biochemical Sciences. By J: S . Fruton. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia PA (USA), 1990. ix,
473 pp., hardcover $40.00. - ISBN 0-87169-191-4
This is a thought-provoking book. J. S. Fruton was involved in the pioneering days of classical biochemistry, and
writes with a keen awareness of his origins-he dedicated his
basic textbook of general biochemistry to Max Bergmann,
Leonor Michaelis, Rudolf Schoenheimer and Gerty T. Cori,
and the book certainly lived up to these standards. Here he
examines the interplay between organization and success in
research, taking as examples the outstanding research
groups active in organic and medicinal chemistry in Germany between 1830 (Justus Liebig) and 1914 (Emil Fischer),
a period that provided clear evidence of the value of basic
research for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
One finds here a remarkably complex interplay between opportunity and initiative, or between different forms of giving
and taking. Fruton regards these matters with the detachment of the historian; nevertheless, one senses that his sympathies do not lie with the powerful and forceful team managers and single-minded achievers, but rather with those
research groups in which, while certainly a main focus of
attention was not lacking, there was also scientific tolerance
and a liberal attitude, which made it possible to take up a
wide range of topics and to initiate discussion that stimulated new ideas. This occurred, for example, in the groups led
by Felix Hoppe-Seyler and Franz Hofmeister (both of
whom, interestingly, worked at StraDburg, the German empire’s new showpiece university), and also, in a more centralist but nevertheless thoroughly liberal style, in Adolf von
Baeyer’s group. Here we have the question that is debated
time and time again: how does one achieve a “critical mass”?
Through a systematic bringing together of talented and compatible scientists, or by a process of generating ideas through
the multicolored interests of different individuals? Is success
best achieved by a frontal attack with massive forces, or by
“minelaying” at the critical spot?-should one opt for a
chemists’ pile in the manner of Liebig, or aim at the drudgery
of making molecules according to the Fischer rules but in the
nimbus of the “master”, or the less glamorous training of the
Angew. Chrm. Inl. Ed. Engl. 31 (1992) No. 1
independent searching mind in a variety of current problem
Hofmeister series-which, although less immediately spectacular, is more enduring and fruitful in the
long term? The answer is that one must decide whether the
aim is to apply the knowledge gained quickly, or to invest for
the future. Here one is concerned with style that makes the
man rather than with the idea that is often put forward of a
tree of learning branching out from the grand masters of
chemistry and forgers of Nobel laurels, which mostly only
illustrate the old maxim that eminent teachers tend to gather
around them able and well-motivated students.
This is how it was in the days of the old-style professors:
they were never far away from the laboratory; they were as
much concerned with the novices as with the post-graduate
students, and with the “post-docs’’ who were in many cases
only in the laboratory for a few months as visiting colleagues, and they gave practical advice to all of these. Of
course, the “bosses” differed widely in their characters. Justus Liebig wanted to force nature to follow his rules, and to
that end he set up an almost military organization (it was no
accident that chemistry at GieDen had started life in a former
guard-room); in the end, however, this only made him, the
Chief of General Staff and PR man, severely ill, as evidenced
by the less Olympian the daguerrotypes. In a similar way,
Emil Fischer, almost systematically staking one claim after
another, became prematurely burned out by the grind of
chemistry and family problems, yet he led his loyal team,
firmly kept in their subordinate roles, to a string of successes
along paths known only to him. Again, a size smaller, there
was A. Kossel who, although his horizons were more limited,
kept on resolutely towards his objectives. In contrast to these
is Baeyer, who lived a self-contented and well-balanced life
of idiosyncratic professorial grandeur, whose charisma left
no room for self-doubt, and whose integrity, even when authoring his colleagues’ work, could therefore not be doubted.
The fastidious and assertive character Hoppe-Seyler, imbued
with the sheer positivism of his time, impressed his contemporaries. Then there was the critically aggressive and highly
imaginative W Kiihne, and the impressively relaxed
Hofmeister, whose Bohemian poetic streak enabled him to
build a successful team-here one finds the roots of the sort
of biochemistry that the organic chemists were never able to
understand, rhyming “Biochemie” with “Schmierchemie”
(“slime Chemistry”), even though this was the origin of the
crystals that they came to love so much that they shunned all
other forms. This situation persisted into the middle of the
present century, when the much-vaunted German school of
chemistry failed to link up with the emerging field of molecular biology, whereas the British and American chemists
turned out to be more adaptable for a number of reasons,
partly but not entirely through having no “Schule”, and
thereby profiting from the biochemical expertise that fled
from Germany.
It is very instructive to examine the styles of working that
prevailed in different groups. On the one hand are those that
are committed to using just a few methods, from which they
extract the maximum possible, while on the other hand are
the developers of methods, who often are unable themselves
to derive the optimum benefit from them. Here one can see
many parallels with the present-day development of biochemistry into molecular biology, and there is a sense of
dkja vu about this area. An older chemist recalls with
amusement the time when the biologists transformed the
university faculties against the resistance of the narrowminded chemist slave-drivers. With hindsight things look
different; it is opportunity that determines character, and as
results have developed into patentables, personality and
c) VCH Verlugsgerellschuft mhH, W-6940 Weinheim, 1992
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