green chemistry

EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety

For all of their beneficial uses, chemicals can also pose potential risks: manufacturing them can create emissions and waste, and exposure to them can impact our health and the environment. One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals.

Last October, Administrator McCarthy asked EPA employees to log into GreenSpark, our internal online employee engagement platform, and share stories of the innovative and collaborative work that they are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety. I’d like to share some of their exciting work with you.

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Developing Innovative Science: EPA’s Office of Research and Development, with support from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working to change the way we evaluate chemical safety to make it quicker and easier to understand the potential toxic effects of chemicals on human health and the environment. Here are a couple of great examples:

We’ve developed the Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast), which uses automated chemical screening technologies to understand the effects of chemical exposure. ToxCast evaluated more than 2,000 chemicals from a broad range of sources, including potentially “green” chemicals that could be safer alternatives to existing chemicals. Based on this work, the new Interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability (iCSS) Dashboard provides a user-friendly web-based application that offers product manufacturers, researchers, and others a faster way to evaluate the safety of chemicals. ToxCast data is also being applied in the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to target priority chemicals and avoid expensive and time-consuming animal testing methods.

CHEMzebraAnother innovative approach that our Office of Research and Development scientists are developing is a program using zebrafish to rapidly screen standard chemicals and their green alternatives for their ability to affect developing embryos.

CHEMHorizMaking Use of Data: Several EPA programs work daily to make sure the public, communities, regulators and industry have access to data that keeps people safe. EPA’s Office of Environmental Information is working to integrate facilities data relating to chemical plants and their relationship to communities. This work, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, and other agencies supports Executive Order (EO) 13650: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security and helps inform planning and emergency preparedness and response for safer communities.

Providing Technical Assistance: Artisanal and small scale gold mining is the largest man-made source of mercury. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. To reduce airborne mercury emissions from artisanal and small scale gold mining, EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs worked with Argonne National Laboratory to develop a simple mercury capture system (MCS).

Data collected during site visits in the Amazon and high Andes areas of Peru showed that in shops with the installed MCS technology, mercury vapor concentrations were reduced by 80% compared to shops without the technology. We are now working to raise awareness of the mercury capture technology in developing countries through partnerships with key organizations.

CHEMpeoplestandingWorking in Collaborative Partnerships: Working with local partners including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), EPA Region 2 is helping improve chemical management in high school and college laboratories and the adoption of green chemistry practices through hands-on training for high school science teachers and college faculty in New York. More than 200 teachers from 138 school districts and 29 college and university faculty have participated in trainings, and faculty participants have produced ten case studies on implementing green chemistry practices in college and university settings. This is just one example of the work that our Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention is leading along with our Regional Offices to promote innovations in green chemistry.

Please join me in thanking all of the talented, dedicated employees who have contributed to these and other amazing activities that improve the human health and environment of the communities we serve.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Who Are This Year’s Innovators Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Energy Efficiency?

The 2014 winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Awards have done it again. These scientists are helping to crack the code and solve some of the most challenging problems facing our modern society. They are turning climate risk and other problems into a business opportunity, spurring innovation and investment. They are reducing waste – energy, chemicals and water waste – while cutting manufacturing costs, and sparking investments.
Take a look at some of this year’s promising innovations:

New Bus Fuel Could Reduce Greenhouse Gases by 82%. Making and burning this new fuel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel. Amyris (in California) has engineered a yeast to make a renewable fuel replacement for petroleum diesel. Since carbon pollution increases our costs in health care and other impacts, this technology could save tens of thousands of dollars each year.

New LED Lighting Material Could Save you 36% on Energy Bills. If QD Vision, Inc’s (in Massachusetts) technology were used in just 10% of flat-screen TVs, we could save 600 million kilowatt-hours worldwide every year – enough to provide electricity for 50,000 homes for one year! Even better, producing these materials avoids the need for about 40,000 gallons of solvents per year. This technology brings massive energy savings and is good for the planet, with reduced carbon emissions, heavy metals emissions, and less use of toxic chemicals.

New Safer Firefighting foam. This new foam doesn’t contain persistent toxic chemicals that can accumulate in our blood and that of animals. The Solberg Company (in Wisconsin) used surfactants and sugars that can fight fires more effectively than before. One of the world’s largest oil and gas companies will use it to fight fuel fires and spills. The product works better and is safer – a win-win for industry and for protecting our health and the environment.

Making Pills While Reducing Chemicals and Waste. The manufacturing process for pills can create toxic waste. Professor Shannon S. Stahl at the University of Wisconsin has discovered a way to safely use oxygen instead of hazardous chemicals in a step commonly used while making medicine. If brought to market, these methods could have a big impact on the industry, reducing chemicals, reducing waste, and saving companies time and money.

Making Soaps, Laundry Detergents, Food Products, and Fuels While Reducing Energy and Water Use, Waste, and Impacts on Forests. These everyday products can now be produced with much less energy, water, and waste, thus saving money. Solazyme, Inc. (in California) has developed novel oils from sugar and engineered algae in a way that significantly reduces the environmental effects that typically occur in producing and processing some oils. Also, the company’s palm-oil equivalent can help reduce deforestation and greenhouse gases that can occur from cultivation of palm oil.

As you can see, the Presidential Green Chemistry Award winners are solving real-world problems through scientific innovations. These prestigious awards are challenging American researchers and innovators to use their talent to improve our health, environment, and the economy.

During the 19 years of EPA’s Green Chemistry program, we have received more than 1,500 nominations and presented awards to 98 technologies. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2014 submissions from among scores of nominated technologies and made recommendations to EPA for the 2014 winners. The 2014 awards event will be held in conjunction with an industry partners’ roundtable.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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PARIS III: EPA’s Solvent Substitution Software Tool

By Paul Harten, Ph.D.

Opening screen of EPA's PARIS III.

EPA’s PARIS III

For decades, companies have used chemicals or solvents to improve the performance of their industrial processes. Unfortunately, many of these solvents are released as harmful wastes into our environment. EPA researchers are helping reduce that practice.

Recently, my colleagues and I developed a software tool, called PARIS III, that helps companies find alternate chemical mixtures or solvents that still improve their industrial processes but are not as harmful to our environment.

PARIS III stands for “Program for Assisting the Replacement of industrial Solvents, version 3.0”. Previous versions of the PARIS tool have been as effective, but this version has specifically been developed by the EPA as a free solvent substitution software tool. It can be used by any environmentally-conscious individual, including solvent technicians, industrial and solvent engineers, and environmental consultants.

The PARIS III database includes more than 4000 solvents commonly used by industry. In the search for replacements, it taps only those that have less environmental impact (greener), mixing them together in different proportions to find mixtures that perform as close as possible to the performance of those currently used by companies. The close replacement mixtures found can then be sorted to choose those mixtures that are least harmful to the environment.

To download and learn more about the tool, go to: www.epa.gov/nrmrl/std/parisIII/parisIII.html

Learn more and download the tool at the website listed below.

The software uses the Environmental Index of solvent mixtures. That is a measure of a solvent mixtures’ impact on the environment, made by combining a various indicators, including human health, acid rain, and global warming. By looking at the ratio of the original solvent mixture’s Environmental Index to the Environmental Index of its replacement, you can get an estimate of how much harm to the environment will be avoided. For example, if the Environmental Index of the original solvent mixture is 10.0, and the Environmental Index of the replacement solvent mixture is 1.0, then using the replacement solvent instead of the original solvent will reduce harm to the environment by a factor of 10.0 to 1.0.

This solvent substitution software tool is provided by the EPA for free, and can be effective and efficiently used to help environmentally-conscious individuals find better and greener solvent mixtures for many different common industrial processes. Simply download and start using this tool at EPA’s website:

http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/std/parisIII/parisIII.html

About the Author: EPA Physical Scientist Paul Harten has a Ph.D. in computational physics and a great amount of experience in computer science. He has been extensively involved with growth in the computer-oriented environmental sciences during his fifteen years with the Agency.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Climate Change and Green Chemistry Technologies

When it comes to preventing climate change, you’re right to think about the big sources of carbon pollution like power plants and cars. But did you know that if each of us washed our clothes in cold water, it would cut residential carbon pollution by a total of 4 percent?  Plus, by doing so, we would save money on our home energy bills at the same time.  Cold water detergents now make it possible to skip the need to use hot water to clean our clothes, and it’s one of the break-through green chemistry technologies that help us mitigate climate change.

Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the first place.  In addition to cold water detergents, EPA is promoting the development of other exciting green chemistries. Through our Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards we recognize the groundbreaking work of some the most innovative scientists and researchers in the U.S. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Going Green & Making Green: Insights from a Sustainable Business Roundtable

There’s an unfortunate perception that environmental regulation — and even EPA’s voluntary programs — are at odds with economic growth. The reality is that growing numbers of leaders across industries and market sectors are seeking out and adopting sustainability initiatives and business models, and supporting prudent environmental regulation while maintaining a robust bottom line — proving you can make green while going green.

More than a dozen of these corporate leaders participated in a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the White House and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) that I had the honor of attending. I heard directly from Council members and partners who are working within their respective industries to advance social and environmental responsibility.

The discussion concentrated on chemical safety reform and EPA’s Green Chemistry  and Design for the Environment (DfE) initiatives.  The Council also presented independent research showing that consumers are increasingly “leaning green,” demanding more information on safety of ingredients in consumer products and factoring in product safety and sustainability when they purchase products.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Pollution Prevention Week: Making Every Day Earth Day

At EPA we like to say, “Make every day Earth Day.” It’s no stretch to say that millions of Americans are taking steps to prevent pollution by using less toxic substances, conserving resources, reusing materials and taking other simple steps that are good for the economy, people and the planet.

EPA recognizes Pollution Prevention (P2) Week each year during the third week in September, and we’d like to share some of our programs to prevent pollution:

Green Sports – Millions of Americans share a love of sports, but you may not realize that your favorite team is tallying victories of a different sort. Teams, sports facilities, and fans are greening sports by reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and taking other sustainability initiatives.

(left) Steve Phelps; Chief Marketing Officer, NASCAR; (center) Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention; (right) Dr. Michael Lynch; and Managing Director of Green Innovation, NASCAR sign an MOU to make NASCAR greener in May 2012, photo credit: NASCAR

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Even Better Living Through Green Chemistry

green chemistry

An exciting area of innovation within the field of chemistry is developing safer chemicals and processes that improve our lives and protect the environment. Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate hazardous substances that could otherwise find their way into the air, water, land, wildlife, and our bodies.

In my efforts to learn more about developments in green chemistry, I have visited several Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge winners over the past year, and I can report that innovation around green chemistry is alive and well. From coast to coast, American businesses are designing green solutions to some of our most challenging environmental issues – and making a profit along the way. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Scientist at Work: Interview with Dr. Heriberto Cabezas

Dr. Heriberto Cabezas is currently the Senior Science Advisor to the Sustainable Technology Division in EPA’s National Risk Management Research Lab, where he works to advance the scientific understanding, development, and application of science and technologies to address a variety of areas related to sustainability. He was formerly an Acting Director of the Division, and Chief of the Sustainable Environments Branch.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue science?

I think I must have been five or six. For some unknown reason, I was playing with the electricity in my house. Of course as a six year-old I was lucky to survive. I did hook up a number of things and the lights went out in my house. I had to fix it quietly so my parents wouldn’t notice. The second time, I redid my rig and the lights didn’t go out. I was always interested in science.

How does your science matter?

My work focuses on preventing environmental problems from happening in the first place. I mostly work on designing processes that have the smallest environmental footprint.

More recently, I have been working on sustainability. We have to ask ourselves, “How can we successfully manage the environment so that we avoid environmental problems in the long term?” The kinds of things that my coworkers and I do matter because it’s the best way to protect the environment and human health: being proactive. We’re not trying to fix a problem after it has already occurred, but trying to see if we can prevent the problems from occurring in the first place. I think that is important.  Click here to read the whole interview.

To read more Scientists at Work interviews, click here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Greener Option to Dry Cleaning: Celebrate P2 Week!

By Lorne LaMonica

Professional Wet Cleaning (PWC) is a method of garment cleaning that uses water, a gentle washing machine, biodegradable soaps and conditioners, and specialized drying and pressing equipment.  The U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) recognizes PWC as an example of an environmentally preferable technology that can effectively clean garments.

There are around 2,000 dry cleaners in the state, with the largest concentration located in the New York City metro area. Of these, approximately 80% use percloroethylene (“perc”), and the remaining use a solvent other than perc. Throughout New York State, only nine facilities currently use wet cleaning. It is estimated that New York State drycleaners use approximately 137,000 gallons of perc each year, of which 131 tons of perc per year are emitted to the atmosphere.

EPA has determined that perc is a “likely human carcinogen.” People exposed to high levels of perc, even for brief periods, may experience serious symptoms including: dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye and mucous membrane irritation.

What can I do to help reduce environmental and health risks from dry cleaning?

The most important thing you can do is to choose a high quality cleaner who acts responsibly toward the environment. Most professional dry cleaners are experts in fabric are and are already familiar with these issues. They will be able to advise you on whether or not your garments can be successfully cleaned in new cleaning processes. Some specific things you can do include:

  • Know what you are buying. Learn about cleaning processes and know what options are available to you from your local professional cleaners.
  • Ask your cleaner about cleaning methods, safety and maintenance practices, and how s/he handles solvent waste streams.
  • Bring your clothes to a professional cleaner who carefully follows safety requirements, and properly maintains cleaning equipment.
  • If your professional cleaner offers a wet cleaning process as an option, consider asking your cleaner to wet clean your clothes.
  • Help your cleaner determine the best way to clean your clothes by describing how they were soiled (e.g., food, ink, make-up), and by giving your cleaner the fabric content information off the care labels if you remove the labels for any reason.
  • If you smell solvent when you enter a cleaning shop, you might want to consider going somewhere else as solvent odors can indicate improper processing or solvent use.
  • If you think all of the solvent was not removed, or if your newly dry cleaned clothes smell like solvent, ask your cleaner to re-process your order or take them to another cleaner for re-cleaning.

Where can I get additional information about PWC?

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/wsgc/wetclean.htm

New York State Pollution Prevention Institute: http://www.rit.edu/affiliate/nysp2i/garment-cleaning

About the author: Lorne LaMonica is a senior Environmental Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. LaMonica has been with the EPA for over 20 years and has worked in many of EPA’s environmental programs, including its hazardous waste, NEPA, and State Revolving Fund programs.  Lorne is the Region 2 Liasion for the national EPA WaterSense program, a contributing web content author, and is a Project Officer for several grants under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Pollution Prevention grants programs. Lorne works in the Pollution Prevention and Climate Change Section in EPA Region 2.

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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Safer Chemicals for a Safer World: Celebrate P2 Week!

By Kristie Friesenhahn

As Tom Hanks said in You’ve Got Mail, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.” Today launches Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, and with that in mind, we can make sure Back to School season is a little greener. The theme of this year’s P2 week is “Safer Chemicals for a Safer World.” As we get settled into the new school year, consider these tips for celebrating P2 Week.

Pollution Prevention Public Service Announcement

Bring green chemistry to your school. Promote safe chemical management and encourage teachers and students to use green chemistry principles in the classroom, considering the lifecycle of the chemicals they work with and their impact on the environment and creating awareness of chemical toxicology and sustainability. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is conducting green chemistry pilot projects for New York’s high schools as an innovative and safer approach to chemistry. The pilot projects will include chemical assessment, inventorying, and training workshops. Read more information on green chemistry.

Cleaning your home or dorm room? Search for safer products recognized under EPA’s Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program. By doing so, your family can eliminate 40 pounds of potentially harmful chemicals per year. 40 pounds! That’s more than the weight limit for a dog at your average NYC apartment!

If you’re cleaning out your medicine cabinet, remember to safely dispose of your medications. Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 29th (10am – 2pm) and visit the DEA NationalDrug Take-Back Initiative website to find a location near you.

Purchasing a new computer this school year? Search for EPEAT®-registered electronics. EPEAT® is a comprehensive environmental rating that helps identify electronics designed to be easier to recycle, less toxic and more energy efficient. Also, EPEAT® is expected to expand late this year and early next to cover printers, copiers and televisions!

E-cycle the computer you’ve replaced with the EPEAT® registered one. Read about a fellow Greening the Apple blogger’s successful Brooklyn experience with e-cycling.

About the author: Kristie Friesenhahn has been with the EPA for over five years working on issues related to pollution prevention and toxics, including developing best practices to prevent consumer and worker exposure to chemicals.

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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