In 1876, Fenton described a colored product obtained on mixing tartaric acid with hydrogen peroxide and a low concentration of a ferrous salt. Full papers in 1894 and 1896 showed the product was dihydroxymaleic acid. Haber, Weiss and Willstätter proposed in 1932-1934 the involvement of free hydroxyl radicals in the iron(II)/hydrogen peroxide system, and Baxendale and colleagues around 1950 suggested that superoxide reduces the iron(III) formed on reaction, explaining the catalytic nature of the metal. Since Fridovich and colleagues discovered the importance of superoxide dismutase in 1968, numerous studies have sought to explain the deleterious effects of cellular oxidative stress in terms of superoxide-driven Fenton chemistry. There remain questions concerning the involvement of free hydroxyl radicals or reactions of metal/oxo intermediates. However, these outstanding questions may obscure a wider appreciation of the importance of Fenton chemistry involving hypohalous acids rather than hydrogen peroxide as the oxidant.

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