The ubiquity of chemicals and our
growing environmental awareness are helping to usher a new era in chemistry. Chemicals are part of modern life, yet we are increasingly aware that even tiny quantities of toxins can have harmful health effects including asthma, neuro-developmental disorders, and certain cancers. Chemicals are also being
connected with a variety of distinctively modern diseases and disorders including obesity, diabetes, autism, and ADD.
and Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley, the US
produces or imports 42 billion pounds of chemicals every day, 90% of which are
created using oil. Moreover, it says, “Global chemical production is expected to
double every 25 years for the foreseeable future.”
According to a recent
biomonitoring survey by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American has trace
amounts of over two hundred environmental chemicals, including arsenic, cadmium
The Chemical industry employs almost a million people in the US, making it an
important economic force. However, the chemically derived, non-biodegradable
products commonly known as plastic, makes up nearly 12% of American trash, 27
million tons of plastic ended up in landfills in 2005 and only 6 percent was
Plastics are not only destructive to the environment, they are harmful to
human health. Modern plastics employ chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and
phthalates, both of which are thought to disrupt the endocrine system, leading
to developmental problems. Some 6 billion lb. (2.7 billion kg) of the BPA are
produced globally each year. The CDC has found BPA in the urine of 93% of
surveyed Americans over the age of 6. To better understand the health effects,
the EPA has launched a new investigation into BPA.
BPA is not the only industrial chemical in common use that may alter the
normal functioning of the endocrine system. Phthalates and flame retardants
like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been linked to reduced sperm
counts and feminization in animal studies.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, has failed in its mandate
to regulate the chemical industry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
has been able to restrict very few chemicals and it lacks the power to ban
dangerous carcinogens like asbestos. The vast majority of the chemicals in use
in the US have unknown human health effects as the EPA has only tested about 200
of the 83,000 chemicals in the TSCA inventory.
Under the current system, chemicals are deemed safe until the EPA can prove
that they are dangerous. To be considered dangerous, the EPA must conduct tests
which can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Congress is considering new legislation to regulate the nation’s chemicals.
The Safe Chemicals Act, proposed by Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Senator
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) would dramatically strengthen the Environmental
Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ability to regulate chemicals and make industry
responsible for demonstrating the safety of existing and new chemicals.
interest, the business community shares the view that chemicals need to be
regulated. On April 15, the American Sustainable Business Council
(ASBC) proclaimed their support for the new legislation.
Jeffrey Hollender, Co-Founder, Seventh Generation and ASBC member said,
“we support updating TSCA because it is vital for protecting the health of
people and the planet. It will have important benefits for us as a downstream
user of chemicals through greater information and innovation. As a consumer
products company, this will restore consumer trust in our industry.”
The most immediate way to reduce the global plastic impact is to simply use
less of it, but for those chemicals deemed vital, there is a promising solution
to the modern world’s dependence on chemicals. The new field of green chemistry
designs chemicals through processes that reduce or eliminate the use and
generation of hazardous substances, leave no dangerous residue and use less
At this year’s annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, more than
1,600 of 12,000 presentations were dedicated to sustainability and this number
will increase dramatically when the TSCA is replaced by more functional
legislation later this year.
The TSCA has provided little incentive for U.S. manufacturers to invest in
green chemistry technologies, but the proposed legislation directs the EPA to
create a green chemistry research grant program and establish a network of
research centers to help find safer alternatives to dangerous chemicals.
Although there are concerns about evaluating safety and closing loopholes for
new chemicals, there is good reason to be optimistic about the passage of a
chemical reform bill. The business community is working alongside government to
push its passage. “Today’s astute business leaders are concerned about the
health and business impacts that could arise if the products they use or sell
contain toxic chemicals. A strong Safe Chemicals Act can help create a more
competitive, innovative, and economically sustainable economy in the US,” said
David Levine, co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council.
The public is increasingly demanding greater accountability, irresponsible
businesses that poison people and the planet risk more than legal sanctions,
they risk their reputational capital and retribution through direct actions.
With the backing of the business community and the general public, it looks
as though there is enough support to bring America’s unregulated use of toxins
to an end. Due to a confluence of regulations, litigation, and competitive
pressures, green chemistry is no longer just part of the mission of a forward
looking company, it is soon to be enshrined in American law.
There’ll be a day in the future when all chemistry is going to be green,”
says John Warner, director of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.
“In that world we’d never need regulation again.”
Source: Global Warming is Real
Winners of the 2011 Green Chemistry Awards
The University of Oregon’s Interdisciplinary MBA and Green Chemistry
GE is Helping Nestle with Green Chemistry
Green Chemistry is part of an Integrative Approach to Eco-Innovation
Green Product Design Network