In The Field

ACS: The greening of the EPA


The big hitters are out in force to tell us how important Green Chemistry is. None other than the father of green chemistry-turned EPA science advisor gave a talk this evening in impressive style.

Paul Anastas breezed onto the stage to sit nonchalantly atop a high stool, and spoke for about 45 minutes about the virtues of green chemistry. Anastas is on faculty at Yale University and also appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Research and Development. In 1998 Anastas and his colleague John Warner developed the 12 principles of green chemistry, which are all about making chemical processes and reactions benign and sustainable.

Anastas was on great form. The huge ballroom was packed, and the notes-less Anastas seemed to love the attention. But what did he say? Well, his speech seemed to be a rallying cry, telling chemists to make sure that green chemistry was at the heart of every process they develop in future. “Green chemistry is not a sub-discipline of chemistry, it’s a thread that runs through all chemistry,” he said.

He made a plea to the audience that they all students of chemistry are taught their science with a strong hint of green chemistry, to expose them to molecular design using green chemistry principles.

But how much influence does he have at EPA to really ensure that green chemsitry becomes ingrained? Well, there are no specific grants to be had to do green chemistry. Instead, Anastas said that any time a grant solicitation call was put together it woudl be taken for granted that all applicants would be proposing chemistry or engineering projects that adhered to the 12 principles. This would be the baseline, he said.

Specifics at EPA include a budget increase for education, and a near doubling of the money available to investigate endocrine disruption.

I also learned a new phrase: green-nano. “All of the applications without the implications” Anastas defined this as. Well, that will be interesting – as most nanotech I’ve seen so far involves precious, expensive, rare metals, or toxic substances.

The rallying cry ended with Anastas telling the collected chemists that they were more powerful than they might imagine, that it is chemists and engineers that can change the trajectory that mankind is on right now, the trajectory that is destroying the planet.

His speech was to be followed by a town hall meeting to discuss California’s green chemistry efforts, which are substantial and include a green chemistry initiative specific to the state.


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