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UK chemists help Afghanistan assess its mineral wealth

British chemists are helping to revitalise the Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS) to help the war-torn country make the most of its mineral wealth.

Afghanistan's natural resources include significant deposits of metals such as gold, silver, copper and zinc; precious and semi-precious stones including lapis, emerald and azure; and coal, natural gas and oil. Accurate geological surveys of the country's mineral resources are crucial to locating deposits and advising potential investors, but the AGS has seen decades of decay and neglect.

Michael Watts, an analytical chemist with the British Geological Survey, is deputy leader of a team that has just left for Afghanistan to install a geochemistry laboratory. ‘We have to take a very pragmatic, low-tech approach,’ Watts told Chemistry World magazine. ‘We are establishing a very basic infrastructure.’ The main piece of equipment for the laboratory will be a spectrophotometer, used to test water for the presence of zinc, nickel and copper.

If the AGS can start to function efficiently once again, the future is potentially bright: donors such as the World Bank are waiting in the wings with substantial investment to help develop Afghanistan’s mineral trade.

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Michael Watts can be contacted while in Afghanistan by email:

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How green is ‘green chemistry’? Some chemistry enthusiastically labelled as green may be nothing of the kind, warn researchers who worry that mediocre – if well-meaning – science is damaging their subject.

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China’s battle with fake drugs: Chemistry World joins counterfeit pharmaceuticals investigator Gao Jingde, who is fighting the rising tide of fake or substandard drugs which, according to one estimate, claim up to 300,000 Chinese lives a year.

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Plus: As companies and consumers face a 1 July deadline to comply with the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations – covering everything from televisions to fridges, computers to pinball machines – we look at the chemistry that is helping to beat e-waste. (feature article on request)

Brian Emsley | alfa
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