Green chemistry: New eyes and new ideas in science. Keynote address by Dr. John Warner, Kellas 106, Wednesday 7:30 - 9:00 pm
Green Chemistry: Improving our lives and saving our planet by Stephanie Stassi
When most people think of Chemistry, they usually see it as a tedious and complicated subject, and to those who are not interested in the sciences the very notion of it is of no use to them. However, Green Chemistry is a field of science that is of great interest and use to all. Green Chemists use a new set of processes to reduce and/or eliminate hazardous and dangerous substances. Many of these substances are waste products from industrial processes, such as in the production of pharmaceuticals. However, it is not only in waste material that we can find hazardous substances. Toxic substances are all around us. They are used in the making of the food we eat, in the materials that are homes are constructed from and even the toys that children play with.
The first principle of Green Chemistry, as stated by the two foremost experts in the field, is “it is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed” (Anastas and Warner 30). This may seem like a common sense notion, but in the industrial world it is a fairly new concept.
The following is an example of how industrial waste affected a community. In the early 1980s Holbrook, Massachusetts was home to the Baird & McGuire factory which produced pesticides and insecticides. For years, residents took little notice of the acres of open land that contained empty barrels and a “green slime” strewn throughout the property. In 1982, the EPA placed the plant on its list of national high priority waste sites after the highly toxic chemicals arsenic, DDT and chlordane were found to have saturated the soil surrounding the factory. After the plant was forced to close, residents of the neighboring towns figured that they were out of harm’s way. They were soon sadly proven very wrong. It was quickly realized that people had and were developing serious illnesses at a right much higher than normal. Between 1979 and 1983, 24 male residents of Holbrook passed away from lung cancer; almost twice as many as would be expected for a town of its size.
Also during this period, men were being diagnosed with fatal bladder cancer at three times the average rate and women in Holbrook were diagnosed with uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers at twice the normal rate (“Living Dangerously”). Almost everyone has heard of situations such as this, but few experience them. Our lecturer, Dr. Warner, is one of the foremost experts in the field of Green Chemistry. As the co-founder of the Warner Babcock Institute of Green Chemistry he is on the front lines of the battle against dangerous substances making their way into our environment and consequently our lives. Without the Green Chemistry movement, instances such as the one at the Baird & McGuire factory will continue to happen, putting countless lives at risk.
Several other momentous events in history brought about the need of current practices to be evaluated and led the emergence of Green Chemistry as a scientific field. Just thirty years ago, the majestic bald eagle was placed on the endangered species list after poisoning from the then common insecticide DDT nearly killed off the entire species (Scheer). By the time that DDT was recognized as a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent), numerous people had been exposed to it (Sawant ). DDT was banned for use in the United States in 1972, but before this ban it was used a common pest control in homes, as well as in large scale situations such as the control of malaria carrying mosquitos in World War 2. Consequently, people also were inadvertently exposed to this dangerous chemical (DDT).
Although Green Chemistry aims its practices at reducing waste at an industrial level, it also imposes practices that can improve our health on a daily basis. Have you ever wondered how coffee was decaffeinated? In coffee production, the unwanted caffeine is “washed” away from the coffee beans by soaking them in solvents that have are known carcinogens ( Events). Not only are these chemicals dangerous to consumers’ health, they also add to the countless amounts of dangerous waste products that pose a significant risk if introduced into the environment. Green Chemistry practitioners have developed a much safer and environmentally conscious way of removing the caffeine using supercritical carbon dioxide, which is non-toxic and does not introduce more chemicals, like the solvents previously used, into the environment.
Advances in the field of Green Chemistry are vital to preserving our environment as well our own health. While reducing the use of toxic substances is one of the greatest aims of Green Chemistry, the field is also working towards utilizing renewable resources in place of depleting ones. The use of fossil fuels is an example of a depleting resource. Scientists in the field of Green Chemistry are currently looking for a substitute to this. One hopeful alternative is biodiesel which is made from plant based material (Ravichandran 1048). Alternative “greener” methods such as this are at the basis for Green Chemistry.
The chemicals and unsafe processes that Green Chemistry aims to eliminate may have significant negative implications on human health as well as the environments. Not only does Green Chemistry work to eliminate these chemicals, it advocates stopping their production completely. To do this means altering the types of production of many goods and changing to greener methods.
Green Chemistry is a science that works towards bettering our lives and preserving our health as well the natural environments. Ultimately, what is at stake here is our wellbeing and the preservation of our planet and the natural resources that it provides. Supporting the efforts of Green Chemistry scientists and educating yourself about what’s in the products you buy is vital to keeping our world a safe place to live.
Dr. Warner is one of the founding fathers of Green Chemistry and the President, Chief Technology Officer and Chairman of the Board of the Warner Babcock Institute of Green Chemistry. Dr. Warner is also currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Green Chemistry Institute, located in Washington, DC (“Learn Green Chemistry”).
Anastas and Warner. Green Chemistry. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. 1998. Print.
DDT. National Pesticide Information Center. N.p. 1999. Web. 17 March 2013.
Everts, Sarah. "Greener Chemistry: Everyday Products With An Eco-Tinge." New Scientist 205.2751 (2010): 34-38. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Learn Green Chemistry. The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. N.p N.d. Web. 3 March 2013
"LIVING, DANGEROUSLY, WITH TOXIC WASTES Three Tormented Towns Point Up Past, Present And Potential Problems." Time 126.15 (1985): 86. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Ravichandran, S. "Implementation Of Green Chemistry Principles Into Practice." International Journal Of Chemtech Research 3.3 (2011): 1046-1049. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Sawant, S. et al. "Green Chemistry: Why And How - For Sustainable Chemical Industry And Environmentally Commendable Civilization." Journal Of Pharmacy Research 4.12 (2011): 4798-4804. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Scheer R. Has the Bald Eagle Landed?. E: The Environmental Magazine [serial on the Internet]. (2004, Nov), [cited February 27, 2013]; 15(6): 24-25. Available from: Academic Search Complete.