Hidden consequences of the financial crisis

You are unlikely to be aware of this unless you work in a chemical laboratory, but since late last year there has been a critical shortage of a key chemical solvent, acetonitrile. This chemical is a by-product of plastics manufacturing for the car industry, and as the global financial crisis caused demand for cars to collapse, supplies have all but disappeared. Acetonitrile is vital in the testing and production of foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals, and prices have rocketed. The Financial Times covered this story in March, and you can track developments in this chemical industry blog, where not only the chemical options are discussed, but producers from China and India are jostling to offer alternative supplies – and being regarded with deep suspicion by the chemists. It explains too that Hurricane Ike and the Beijing Olympics were additional wildcards that took their toll on production. Reading between the lines, stocks are being used up, and supply is still hard to come by as very high purity is legally and technically required, and it is very hard to recycle. If this keeps up, serious shortages of pharmaceuticals and some foods could develop within a matter of months. This is not helped by the surge in Tamiflu production in response to the great Swine Flu pandemic that fizzled. It all makes you wonder how many more hidden and possibly deadly side-effects of the financial crisis are still lurking in the wings.