The surest way to alleviate the chemo-phobia that afflicts a large part of the public is through early education. By chemo-phobia I mean the predisposition to believe any scare story about hazards to health or the environment caused by the chemical industry or its products. Of course, those include plastics.

The surest way to alleviate the chemo-phobia that afflicts a large part of the public is through early education. By chemo-phobia I mean the predisposition to believe any scare story about hazards to health or the environment caused by the chemical industry or its products. Of course, those include plastics.

The American Plastics Council (APC) in Arlington, Va., has taken positive steps to address this problem. Four and a half years ago, APC helped develop and distribute a free education kit, "Hands On Plastics," based on content written by the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association. The kit is already used in more than 25,000 middle schools across the country. Just last month, APC took the lead in putting the NMLSTA materials on line at www.HandsOnPlastics.com. Take a look. It's all free and easily downloadable. There is background for teachers and students on the history, structure, uses, and characteristics of polymers. There are also a number of suggested activities. APC plans to expand the website to include materials for elementary and high schools, and for students looking for help with science projects.

Speaking of school projects, I got an e-mail from an eighth grader in California who was working on a History Day project about plastics. He had seen my interview on the History Channel television program, "Modern Marvels: Plastics." He wanted to know more about how plastics helped win the Second World War. I was glad to help. My reward was a message informing me that he and his partner won the junior group prize at the county level, and they would be competing this month for the state prize. He wrote: "The judges really liked our Plastic topic and research, and we made our [project display] board out of Plexiglas."