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Changing Chemistry

    Changing     Chemistry    

Industry gets serious about cleaning the muck

Most industrial chemical processes and laboratories make use of starting materials (reactants) that can be harmful to human health and the environment unless properly handled and stored. Remember Bhopal? No wonder your chemistry teacher is always asking you to be careful and cautious while doing experiments in the chemistry lab!

    Enter Green Chemistry   

Green chemists investigate whether it is possible to reduce the hazards by using safer reactants to produce the same products. In response to the environmental and economic costs many chemical companies have made progress in doing this, and others are beginning to follow.

The fundamental idea of green chemistry is that the designer of a chemical is responsible for considering what will happen to the environment after the agent is put in place. Companies also realize that there is money saved in proper waste and environmental disposal. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up dioxins, heavy metals, mercury and asbestos.

    Learning from Nature   

Just as in any natural process chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they break down into innocuous degradation products and do not persist in the environment. In many ways a sustainable future depends on how we produce, use and dispose the products we use everyday. Green chemists of the future will determine whether that will happen or not. Chemistry is no longer the same.

    Become a green chemist   

Industry needs responsible scientists, researchers and
business managers. You can be one of them.

Though not many specialised courses in green chemistry exist in the world today but with increasing need for cleaner production systems ‘green chemists’ will be in great demand in the future. These are exciting times for ecologically conscious scientists tinkering in their labs.

    Organic Pigments   

Red, orange and yellow pigments historically were created using toxic heavy metals such as lead, chromium and cadmium. Engelhard an award winning company in the US has developed environmentally friendly Rightfit pigments and this year will entirely phase out its use of heavy metals.

    Sticky problem    

One-half of the paper and paperboard currently used in the USA is recycled, but adhesives, coatings, plastics and other materials on the old paper can produce spots and holes in the new paper. Called "stickies," they cost the industry US $500 million annually. Buckman uses a new enzyme to turn stickies into a water-soluble, non-sticky material. The enzyme is produced by a bacteria and is completely bio degradable. Since 2002, more than 40 paper mills have converted to the enzyme.

Source: USA TODAY/2004

Here are some ideas on what you can do at home and in school as a budding green chemist:

  • Speak to your chemistry teacher and organise a  classroom session on developing a green chemistry curriculum in your school.
  • Develop a green chemistry activity in your school chemistry laboratory.
  • Consider how you can convert a current lab experiment into a greener one.

Chemical reactions, Rate of reaction, Risk management, Toxicology, Exposure, Hazard, Laboratory safety


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Changing Chemistry