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I am not a chemist

Posted By Mary C. Reiley, Sunday, March 8, 2015

I am not a chemist

Let's start with a bluntly stated and obvious fact; I am not a chemist. Chemistry was the science that put me in glasses as a sophomore at William and Mary. I didn't just struggle seeing the equations, spatial orientation of stereoisomers, and chiral centers, I just plain struggled. So the first time I heard the term "green chemistry" a few years ago, I panicked. I was well into my career and all I could think was, “I am going to have to relearn chemistry!” For me that was the stuff of those recurring college nightmares.

What a relief it was to find, after forcing myself to read a few short articles and some definitions from Google Searches, that it wasn't a chemistry curriculum overhaul but rather an approach to designing and using chemicals. One that would push our chemical dependent modern world toward less chemical impact on the environment and human health.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle (and make “friendlier” chemicals) had come to chemistry, chemicals, and their use. This I could grasp. Heck, this I could embrace. It was a no brainer. (Which was exactly what I needed when it came to chemistry.)

An editorial I read a few weeks ago got me thinking  about “green chemistry” again. From what I understand, getting to green for chemicals requires understanding molecular toxicology, so we can understand exposure and its consequences, so we can design chemicals that are less hazardous to the environment and to people. Of course that statement is way over-simplified and doesn't even mention all the potential combinations of chemicals that act simultaneously or consecutively on us and in the environment, as well as consideration of life stages and generations. Needless to say, I was excited to see where green chemistry shows up in SNA.

I took a quick perusal of our website and search of both ET&C and IEAM.  The earliest article in ET&C which specifically used the term “green chemistry” was published in 1998 and then again in 2003 with two articles.  Including 2003, there have been 24 articles in ET&C specifically discussing “green chemistry”.  IEAM picked up the topic in 2009 and has had published one or more articles each year since for a total of nine.  “Green Chemistry” was part of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 SNA Annual Meetings.  There is at least one recorded session from Nashville (2013). And, the 2016 P&G Fellowship Themes include: Using Environmental Science for Critical Evaluation of "Green Chemistry" and Ecolabel Schemes.

SNA is one place I know that an objective this complicated, which impacts such diversity of organisms and systems, that cuts across so many sectors, and requires so many disciplines to make it possible, will be well researched, vetted, synthesized, and communicated to make a difference.  It’s us at our best.  It’s what we do. It’s what decision-makers come to us for - solid, interdisciplinary, multi-sector, high impact science.

None-the-less, I’m thankful the basic chemistry I learned 30 years ago hasn't shifted on me. But, who knows, maybe I’d be better at it now.


Tags:  Decision Making  Green Chemistry  Science  SETAC-NA President 

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