green chemistry

Green Chemistry Class at Rio+20

By Bicky Corman

On Saturday, June 16, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on Green Chemistry hosted by the United National Global Compact (UNGC) and United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

In his introduction, UNIDO’s Heinz Luenenberger warned us it was likely to be wonky, but it was actually quite energetic. The speakers included: Dr. Professor Rodrigo Souza, of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a green chemistry academic expert; Neil Hawkins from Dow; Peter White from Procter & Gamble; and Jorge Soto of Braskem. There was a palpable enthusiasm from all sectors on the huge transformations possible from understanding and applying green chemistry, which is a game-changer.

Green Chemistry, pioneered 20 years ago by Paul Anastas and John Warner, is based on the premise that toxicity and hazard are not necessary results of manufacture, use or disposal of chemicals; rather, those features are “design flaws” that can be resolved with thoughtful design and understanding of the habits of particular molecules. The application of green chemistry spurs innovation, as manufacturers rush to create these green alternatives. Doing so will save them money in production, use and disposal, and it will help them produce compounds that are safer for their workers and for the ultimate users. Green Chemistry is only gives manufacturers a competitive advantage; it’s also an important ingredient if we wish to promote economic growth and environmental protection.

When it was my turn to present, I had the honor of speaking about the contributions EPA has made in the field of Green Chemistry. EPA has been advancing green chemistry through research, collaboration and recognition for many years.

EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award, which is given to honorees in industry, academia and NGOs, has stimulated innovative design of chemical products in both big and small companies. Dr. Hawkins commented that the receiving these awards has been quite meaningful to Dow, and we’ve seen what the winning technologies have accomplished: Since the program began, participating companies and academic institutions have together eliminated 544 million kilograms of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year, and are eliminating each year about 158 million kilograms of carbon dioxide releases to air.

Throughout the discussion the audience members were very engaged, and commented that the various presentations made them optimistic. I have to agree; this was certainly the most enjoyable chemistry class I have ever attended!

About the author: Bicky Corman is the Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Don’t wait for Wednesday—Get Science Matters!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

While “TGISW” (thank goodness it’s Science Wednesday) may never catch on like that more famous exclamation about everybody’s favorite workday, I’ve come to really enjoy my weekly task of getting EPA’s weekly science post ready for Greenversations. Even though we still have another one left before the calendar flips over to 2012, we’ve already shared more “Science Wednesdays” this year than there are actual Wednesdays.

Posts were “tagged” for a diversity of EPA science activities, including sustainability (six posts this year), green chemistry (four posts), clean air research (four posts), women in science (part of the Agency’s month-long activities Celebrating Women in Science during March, 2011), risk assessment (two posts), and a host of other subjects too numerous to fit into a single blog post. We even managed to work in something about bed bugs and a hedgehog!

EPA scientists eager to share insights on their work advancing environmental models launched a series called “Modeling Matters.”

A special thanks to all our readers and commenters, who joined the science “Greenversations” to the tune of some 191 comments.

By now you’ve noticed that we have a lot of science to share, way more that can fit into weekly “Science Wednesday” posts. That’s why I’d like to invite everyone again to sign up for our newsletter, Science Matters.

The December issue includes stories on: EPA efforts to measure sustainability, an environmental model for tracking mercury levels in fish and loons in lakes across New England, news about the latest release of the Community Multiscale Air Quality Model, a link to a podcast interview about EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study—and more. To have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox, click on the link below and add your e-mail address to the box on the web site: Subscribe to Science Matters.

Until next time—TGISW!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Wheels of Progress

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last week I shared a ride to Baltimore with EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, Dr. Paul Anastas. My colleague Joanne and I wanted to catch Dr. Anastas’ keynote address at the 21st Meeting of the International Society of Exposure Science, so when he accepted her offer for a ride to the meeting, I was able to tag along.

According to the official biography on EPA’s web site, Dr. Anastas is: Known widely as the “Father of Green Chemistry” for his groundbreaking research on the design, manufacture, and use of minimally-toxic, environmentally-friendly chemicals.

He’s also my boss’ boss, so it occurred to me as we strolled toward Joanne’s car that the standard travel protocol—calling out “shotgun!” and leaping into the front seat—was not in order.

Luckily, Dr. Anastas graciously suggested I sit upfront so I could navigate while he fielded calls, monitored his e-mail traffic, and put the final touches on his speech. (Just for the record: I’m pretty sure I would have won the passenger seat.)

Along the way, we chatted. Amongst the talk of congressional hearings, exposure models, and Disney princesses (we all have kids or grandkids), Dr. Anastas made a point that stuck with me: it took years of travel before anyone thought to put wheels on luggage.

That stayed with me throughout his talk about innovation, and how EPA research is striving to advance science and engineering for a sustainable future. Dr. Anastas shared how commitments made over the past 40 years have led to cleaner and healthier air, land, and water.

When I got back to the office I did a quick Google and some simple math to conclude that astronauts landed on the moon some 18 years before a handle and two wheels became standard fare for a big suitcase.

I actually found that kind of comforting. While a bevy of EPA scientists and engineers work to bring the required innovative, high-tech solutions that will surely be needed to meet the environmental challenges of the day, they are also working to share EPA data and challenge everyone interested to join the race for solutions.

Programs such as the Apps for the Environment Challenge and the upcoming Apps for the Environment Forum aim to inspire the environmental equivalent of wheels on luggage. This could be your chance to join the race for environmental solutions. Whose got shotgun?

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the editor of Science Wednesday, and an excellent navigator.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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P2 and Sustainability

By David Sarokin

The theme of this year’s Pollution Prevention Week is P2: The Cornerstone of Sustainability.

Is it? Can P2 really take us to a future we can honestly say is more sustainable?

Becoming sustainable is about much more than just environmental improvement. When I was working on Agenda 21 – the sustainable development action plan that grew out of the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – we had the habit of talking about sustainability as a three-legged stool: environmental, economic and social progress, simultaneously, without improvements in one area interfering with progress in the others. I find that old image still aptly sums up what sustainability is about.

P2’s contribution to environmental progress is pretty straightforward. Use fewer material and energy resources and substitute safer chemicals and processes, and there’s less pollution, less toxic exposure, less mess across the board.

But P2 is also about — and has always been about — greater efficiency too, which is a boon to economic sustainability. Another phrase I’ve used innumerable times over the years (well…decades!) is pollution prevention pays, a message still worth repeating. Less waste means more material goes into finished products instead of into the air, water and landfills, resulting in lower costs for production, waste management and environmental compliance. Energy efficiency not only reduces greenhouse gases, but saves oodles of money during manufacture as well during the useful life of our cars, computers and other energy-consuming products. Energy Star led to $18 billion in savings last year (and I suspect that’s a conservative estimate). Commercial estimates have pegged the market in green chemistry at close to $100 billion!

Lastly, P2 builds more sustainable communities in ways both obvious and subtle. This, too, was part of our Agenda 21 focus, as we worked to add tools for community engagement into the sustainability toolbox. There are very few P2 programs that operate with a you-have-to-do-this-or-else mentality. Most of the accomplishments of P2 are built from a cooperative framework with government bureaucrats (and I use that word proudly) working with industry managers, workers on the plant floor, community representatives and environmental organizations to identify concerns, set goals, find at-the-source P2 solutions and monitor progress. The results improve local environmental and economic circumstances, to be sure. But pollution prevention also builds community relations (PDF) that didn’t exist previously, in an air of trust that, over time, becomes self-evidently effective.

This is sustainability at its best. Pollution prevention is at its foundation. The cornerstone, if you will.

About the author: David Sarokin is a proud EPA bureaucrat with a l-o-o-o-n-g history of working in pollution prevention and sustainability, beginning with his 1986 book, Cutting Chemical Wastes.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: A Green Chemistry Moon Shot

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Chris Crane

I was born in the late 80’s and like many other members of my generation I often dismiss the idea that there are any challenges in this decade that compare to John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Moon speech: “We shall send to the moon…on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth…and do it first before this decade is out.”

What could compare to that?

After attending the 15th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, I stand corrected. At the conference, EPA Assistant Administrator and “Father of Green Chemistry,” Dr. Paul Anastas gave a keynote on “Molecular Revolution.” While I was expecting something heavily laden with scientific terms, what I heard was a welcome surprise (in English)—especially to a young environmentalist dedicated to a sustainable future.

After taking a moment to marvel at what green chemistry has accomplished in its first 20 years, Dr. Anastas moved to address the hard questions of the future. “Today there exists an absurdity, despite our best efforts… it’s absurd that our products and processes are still of concern.” Manmade substances can cause developmental problems for the unborn, hardwire obesity in the womb, and decrease intelligence before a child is even born, Anastas explained.

Alluding to JFK’s historic speech, Dr. Anastas revealed an equivalent challenge for our generation: “By the end of this decade, we will achieve an end to unintentional manmade hazards and the full incorporation of safe and healthy molecular structures.”

There are three essential components to this goal: 1) Every student and practitioner must be trained in the principles of green chemistry. 2) Industry must use no toxic substances and produce no toxic waste. 3) All chemicals in all products must be known to be free of hazard.

Dr. Anastas is calling for a revolutionary transformation in the core functions of our institutions (moving from production with harmful side effects to sustainable production) and the beliefs that support those functions (that waste and hazards are no longer acceptable).

Despite my tendency to dismiss historical patterns, Dr. Anastas showed me how we are all faced with a modern day moon challenge as we try to create a sustainable world. It’s going to take similar levels of cultural, scientific, and political unity behind this goal if we are going to reach the moon.

About the Author: Chris Crane is an intern with the Science Communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is an environmental economics major at Colgate University.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Green Chemistry Turns 20

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D.

Green Chemistry was introduced into the world 20 years ago by EPA—a blueprint for designing safer chemical products and processes. Today, not only has this powerful concept transformed the field of chemistry, but has also given us the tools to build a sustainable future.

EPA’s scientific leadership has guided the way.

The world’s first green chemistry research solicitation—Alternative Synthetic Pathways for Pollution Prevention—was released by EPA in 1991 and it was just the beginning. Scores of articles, books like Benign by Design, the first-ever research symposium on green chemistry, and numerous partnerships and collaborations emerged from the collection of excellent research in EPA’s fledgling Green Chemistry Program.

The growing body of work suggested that hazard and toxicity do not have to be elements of our products and processes. Instead, they are unintended “design flaws” that can largely be avoided with thoughtful molecular design—a revolutionary concept.

The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, started here at EPA in 1995, recognize innovative green chemistry solutions for pollution prevention. At its heart, the program is about demonstrating environmental and economic synergies, belying the myth that a healthy environment and a strong economy are incompatible. On average, winning technologies have eliminated nearly 200 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents, saved 21 billion gallons of water and eliminated 57 million pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide releases every year.

What began at EPA as a small, singular effort—the only research program of its kind—has grown into a collective endeavor of the worldwide scientific community. There are now green chemistry research networks in more than 30 countries on every settled continent, and at least four international scientific journals devoted to the topic. I am astounded by the brilliance, creativity, and leadership that has cultivated the field and allowed it to flourish.

Twenty years later, I am honored to be back at the Agency that brought green chemistry to life. I am humbled by the field’s progress and incredible scientific advances over the course of two decades and only more deeply humbled by the breakthroughs waiting over the horizon and the scientific discoveries yet to be made as EPA continues to pursue and support innovative work in the field of green chemistry.

About the Author: Widely known as “The Father of Green Chemistry,” Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D. is currently the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Science Advisor to the Agency.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday:Foresight for a Better Future: Green Chemistry

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Sarah Blau

“We don’t want to make things just a little less bad, we want to move towards a systems perspective….so tomorrow is not as unsustainable as today.”

These are the words of Dr. Paul Anastas, EPA’s assistant administrator for science. I heard Dr. Anastas speak recently at the Society of Toxicology conference in Washington, DC. These words stuck with me.

Dr. Anastas was kicking off a well-attended workshop on Green Chemistry with his presentation on “Molecular Design for Reduced Hazard.” His statement which stuck with me (quoted above) is relevant to much more than just Green Chemistry though. I heard him as basically saying: let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from a movie: “Hindsight – it’s like foresight without a future.” “So true” I remember thinking during the movie, and this is what I thought of Dr. Anastas’ presentation as well.

He explained that a major aspect of Green Chemistry lies in the design of chemicals. Chemicals are all around us, and some of them are harmful—either to us, to the environment, or to both. Dr. Anastas believes in using a “systems perspective” with chemical research. This means looking at the whole picture, from where the chemical comes from, the processes used in its creation, its role for us or for the environment, and its potential effects on us and our environment. Basically, taking a systems perspective means utilizing great foresight to understand and predict the consequences of new chemicals in the early design stage of research.

“Design considerations are a part of green chemistry,” Anastas gave an example, “you are not just making a red dye, but a red dye that does not also cause cancer.”

What a great idea—to detect potential harmful effects as early in the designing stages of new chemicals, new materials, and new products as possible. Hindsight only offers us the opportunity to try to fix a problem. Foresight allows us the opportunity to keep problems from developing. Dr. Anastas delivered an important message about the concept of Green Chemistry, but also an important message about all aspects of research (and life too): let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Want more? Get Science Matters!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last year, we shared 64 separate blog posts on “Science Wednesday.”

Topics ranged from green chemistry and sustainability (11 posts), to biodiversity’s links to human health (3 posts), clean air science (20 posts, including several about Air Science 40 activities marking four decades of scientific achievements supporting the Clean Air Act), the U.S.A. Science & Engineering Festival (5 posts), and a host of other subjects too numerous to fit into a single blog post.

A special thanks to all our readers and commenters, who joined the science “Greenversation” to the tune of some 378 comments.
The award for the Science Wednesday blogger who generated the most comments goes to EPA scientist Jeff Morris, the National Program Director for Nanotechnology in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Jeff’s February 10 post, Sheep, Goats, and Nanoparticles, not only provided a unique insight into nanotechnology research, but did so in a way that clearly sparked interest.

2011 promises to be another great year of sharing our science. Already in the works are regular Science Wednesday posts on green chemistry to help celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, and updates from the National Research Council’s efforts to help the Agency incorporate sustainability into all our programs. Stay tuned!

By now you’ve noticed that we shared more “Science Wednesday” posts than there were Wednesdays in 2010. We had to turn a few regular Tuesdays and Thursdays into Science Wednesday to share late-breaking or topical science news. And we still have much more to say! That’s why I’d like to invite everyone to sign up for our newsletter, Science Matters.

The January-February issue includes stories on near-roadway air pollution research, a project by EPA researchers exploring the impact of rain barrels and rain gardens on stormwater runoff, efforts to develop high-tech methods to monitor insect-resistant corn crops—and more.

To have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox, click on the link below and add your e-mail address to the box on the web site:

Subscribe to Science Matters

Thanks again for joining the Greenversations.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Increasing Our Focus on Green Chemistry in New England

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Curt Spalding

New England is abuzz with discussions and planning to position the Northeast as a green chemistry force for the country and the world.

What is Green Chemistry? Simply put, it seeks to design and invent the next generation of everyday materials and products by reducing or eliminating the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry means less waste, better energy efficiency and reduced risks for us and our environment. It’s an ongoing process of applying innovation, creativity and intelligence.

I believe green chemistry will be a powerful economic engine for the U.S. and for New England.

Last summer, along with my colleague Paul Anastas, we began brainstorming how to bring together green chemistry leaders from the Northeast. We sought out John Warner of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry , Amy Cannon of Beyond Benign , and New England leaders in government, academia and business to strategize what a sustainable green chemistry future might look like – and how we could make it happen in New England.

The first step for making green chemistry an economic driver in New England was providing an opportunity for a variety of people involved in the subject to gather. With this goal first goal set, EPA hosted a Green Chemistry Networking Forum on Dec. 16, 2010.

For green chemistry to really take off, we need a lot of well-coordinated aspects of society to engage. Education is essential, not only in universities, but also in early science education. At the Forum, we had both college students presenting their green chemistry work, and high school students participating. We were gratified to have all the New England state departments of environmental protection attend.

Business and industry leaders who are adopting the 12 principles of green chemistry were there. Venture capitalists, who understand that innovative businesses that are guided by the green chemistry principles are a sound investment, were there. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking safer, less-toxic chemicals to advance sustainability in our society were also there.

The conversations that began at the Networking Forum will continue. Six groups that began talking about how to bring green chemistry into the future will continue to meet and create plans that they can implement. It’s a collaboration between government, business, academia and the NGOs that’s going to make New England the Green Chemistry Corridor. This is what the buzz is all about. Green chemistry is a way towards a sustainable future.

About the Author: H. Curtis “Curt” Spalding is the Regional Administrator for EPA New England. Spalding has extensive experience in the environmental protection field as an advocate, policy analyst and administrator.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Avoiding Lyme Disease: there’s an app for that!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last weekend, I hopped the northbound train out of Washington, DC for New Haven, Connecticut, where I joined 500 or so other science writers to talk shop at the National Association of Science Writers annual conference. The conference was held jointly with the Forty-eighth Annual New Horizons in Science program, organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and hosted by Yale University and the Yale School of Medicine.

The two events are held consecutively, so that a couple of days of workshops and lectures on the craft of science writing are immediately followed by presentations by scientists eager to share their work with a receptive audience of science writers.

As you could imagine, a number of the presentations covered topics familiar to someone like me who’s “day job” is writing about EPA science and research. There were presentations on what scientists are finding in the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon (BP) oil spill, case studies of the global climate change research, and even a presentation on green chemistry by former EPA environmental engineer Dr. Julie Zimmerman.

I even came across an example of EPA-related research completely unexpectedly. A feature story in the Fall, 2010 issue of the publication Yale Public Health highlights how Yale researchers helped to develop a Lyme disease “app” for iPhones and other popular Apple devices.

The app provides a map of infected tick density at a given location, providing a kind of user-friendly early warning system about Lyme disease risks. The program includes images of ticks people can use to identify different species—hopefully before picking them off their skin with a pair of tweezers.

Although EPA did not directly fund the development of the app, it has supported research integrating earth observation technologies, such as remote sensing, with field studies to model and map Lyme disease risk.

The development of the “app” is just the kind of research-based decision-making and information tool that EPA scientist Montira Pongsiri and her partners have been working to advance (and in Dr. Pongsiri’s case, blogging about) through EPA’s Biodiversity and Human Health Research Program.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is an EPA science writer and the editor of “Science Wednesday.”

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.