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Green Chemistry

  • Date Submitted: 03/07/2011 07:48 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 36.7 
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Green Chemistry: Real world solutions for real environmental problems.
By Terry Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry and Director, Institute for Green Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Despite substantial barriers, green chemistry is making real progress toward solving big environmental problems.
Imagine if water could be free from chemical pollutants. You could eat fish, drink a glass of water, or gaze upon the beauty of an ocean without worrying about toxic contaminants. Considering   the global dimensions of water pollution today, this might seem like an impossible dream. But through green chemistry, we are making progress toward cleaner water. Nevertheless, substantial barriers stil exist to create a world with safer, sustainable chemicals.
Industry sometimes follows the money more single-mindedly than the science. And our regulatory system is so weird that even though its toxicity to children had been scientifically certain for decades, it required an act of Congress to get a potential neurotoxin, lead, out of children’s toys.
In the world today, environmental problems arise across all sectors of the chemical industry. Water contamination by persistent drugs is an example. Traces of ethinylestradiol, an active ingredient in most birth control pills, can devastate fish populations. So should we restrict or ban its use? If so, should we do the same with other eco-toxic drugs?
My research group at Carnegie Mellon is working on another solution: a more effective, environmentally compatible technology for degrading not only drugs, but all persistent organic pollutants in water. In the real world, the idea is to clean waste streams in a green way before they are released to the environment.

The pharmaceutical industry usually designs active pharmaceutical ingredients to resist degradation, which makes them effective at low doses. But the downside is that they are excreted by people and flushed into sewage systems. From...

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