Green chemistry was first established in 1991 by Paul Anastas of the Environmental Protection Agency and has transformed laboratories throughout the world.
Green chemistry is the design, development and implementation of products and processes designed to reduce the generation of substances that are deemed hazardous to the environment or to humans. Although many laboratories have embraced the use of green chemistry, more need to understand the importance of sustainability in the laboratory setting, for the following reasons:
Benefits to Human Health
Green chemistry promotes human health in many different ways. With green chemistry methods, there are fewer hazardous chemicals released into the air that can cause lung damage and less chance that harmful chemicals could be released into water sources. Green chemistry can also help scientists develop safer consumer products, including pesticides or cleaning products, allowing the replacement of products that may be harmful to humans. Increased toxic chemicals can also enter the food chain so the adoption of green chemistry can create safer food sources.
Although many chemicals are released into the environment intentionally, it is also possible for laboratories to release those chemicals unintentionally. There is a need for disposal of harmful substances and there could be emissions from manufacturing that can cause environmental damage. Green chemicals can be recovered for future use or degrade into products that are not harmful. This means that vegetation and wildlife are safer and the potential for global warming may be reduced. Because chemicals can also cause a disruption of ecosystems, green chemistry reduces that risk. It can also lead to fewer landfills necessary for hazardous waste disposal.
One area where green chemistry has grown in importance is in the pharmaceutical industry. The Drug Quality Security Act (DQSA) and the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) have placed an emphasis on identifying and tracking chemicals included in prescription medications. In order to fall into compliance with the DQSA/DSCSA, laboratories will need to incorporate additional green chemistry practices. Drug companies need to provide more information about the ecological impact of chemicals used in the creation of prescription drugs. Because medications are necessary, understanding their economic impact and searching for versions that are less harmful to the environment is critical for sustainability.
Although many laboratories around the world already embrace green chemistry, those that do not may find themselves in violation of environmental protection laws in the very near future. Not only is green chemistry important due to the legal ramifications, it is also critical to protecting the planet for future generations.