Green Chemistry: Real world solutions for real environmental problems.
By Terry Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry and Director, Institute for Green Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Despite substantial barriers, green chemistry is making real progress toward solving big environmental problems.
Imagine if water could be free from chemical pollutants. You could eat fish, drink a glass of water, or gaze upon the beauty of an ocean without worrying about toxic contaminants. Considering the global dimensions of water pollution today, this might seem like an impossible dream. But through green chemistry, we are making progress toward cleaner water. Nevertheless, substantial barriers stil exist to create a world with safer, sustainable chemicals.
Industry sometimes follows the money more single-mindedly than the science. And our ...view middle of the document...
In the real world, the idea is to clean waste streams in a green way before they are released to the environment.
The pharmaceutical industry usually designs active pharmaceutical ingredients to resist degradation, which makes them effective at low doses. But the downside is that they are excreted by people and flushed into sewage systems. From there, they may escape destruction in water treatment plants and pass on to environmental waters. Some even boomerang back to us in drinking water.
My research group’s work derives its inspiration from studies of biological catalysts called peroxidase enzymes. These enzymes activate hydrogen peroxide in living things to oxidize organic compounds in ways that is similar to combustion. Our systems are miniature replicas of peroxidase enzymes. They cannot eliminate(get rid of) toxic elements like lead or mercury, but they can attack and destroy many if not most water contaminants. At very small concentrations, they accelerate peroxide chemistry to degrade a wide range of pervasive and rebellious chemicals in water, including ethinylestradiol and other estrogenic compounds. The list includes drugs, pesticides, dyes, aromatic gasoline components, organochlorines, organosulfur compounds, the colored and smelly contaminants associated with pulp and paper mill effluents, and more. They also rapidly kill bacterial spores.
The take-home scientific message is simple. Green chemistry holds real promise for improving our water quality. Now we are expanding our efforts to show that these technologies can be commercially successful. Because we are green chemists, we are focused on reducing hazardous chemicals. Clearly, we want to avoid introducing any of our own. Toxicity studies to date contain no bad news. Our approach looks to be more effective and environmentally friendly than current technologies.