sheets, they found that there were two fundamental ways to increase profit: (1) increase your price, but this puts you at a disadvantage relative to your competition, or (2) decrease your cost. Many companies began looking for areas in which they could exercise more control over their costs and found that many of these costs lie in the environmental arena.

Life-cycle analysis (LCA), a tool of green chemistry, is a way of examining the total environmental impact of a product through every step of its life—from obtaining raw materials, through making the product in a factory, selling it in a store, using it in the home, and disposing of it. LCA reveals true waste costs. Companies have wasted a lot of money over the years on waste disposal and waste treatment, not to mention litigation. In looking at these costs, it makes sense that companies began to realize very quickly that control over process efficiency was also a control over cost. Decreasing pollution fundamentally increased profit, so movement into this area happened quickly.

This issue has also emerged internationally. Much of international competition is now based on control over costs: raw materials, labor, regulations, and environmental control. Early on there was a movement to ship a lot of U.S. manufacturing overseas because the laws were less stringent and the labor was less expensive. This is no longer the case.

Incomplete Safety Analysis

There are on the order of 75,000 chemicals manufactured, imported, or in commercial use in the United States according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act Chemical Substance Inventory. About 3,000 of the substances listed are released into the environment every year in quantities of 1 million pounds or more. At the same time, toxicological data on most of the chemicals on the inventory are incomplete and falling behind. The EPA uses eight tests to analyze the safety of chemical substances. About 43 percent of the 75,000 registered chemicals have gone through just one EPA test and only 7 percent have been screened through all eight. The regulatory accountability for manufacturing new and existing chemicals with such incomplete safety analysis has become increasingly problematic for businesses and for the EPA. Safety concerns can thus be addressed through the use of alternative environmentally benign chemical substances.

Limited Regulatory System

In the United States, toxic substance discharges into the environment are fairly well regulated. About 650 chemicals and compounds are registered on the EPA Toxics Release Inventory. In 1999, U.S. toxics releases from 22,639 different facilities totaled about 7.8 billion pounds (3.5 billion kilograms). Releases of toxic substances to surface and injection wells added up to about 540 million pounds in our water

TABLE 2.1 Annual U.S. Water Releases to Surface and Injection Wells


Surface Releases

Injection Wells

Total Releases (lbs)

























supply in 2000 (Table 2.1). Avoiding such discharges in the first place is thus a goal of green chemistry efforts.


Chemistry has often been seen as a detriment to the environment. The history of the twentieth century was that chemical substances tended to wind up in the environment, typically not intentionally. A good example is the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the ecosystem. The original intention of these chemical applications was very good. Over time, however, dealing with the impact of a chemical once it is in the environment is extremely expensive and is less likely to be undertaken.

This legacy is a serious problem, not only for the environment, but for the field of chemistry in general. There are many potential chemistry students who feel that they want to do something important for the environment, but they do not choose chemistry as their primary discipline. The number of students going into chemistry is dropping steadily. If it were not for foreign students coming to the United States for a chemical education, many chemistry departments would be closing down.

It seems all of the bad examples would be sufficient to motivate a change in behavior in the right direction. In many cases, behaviors have changed, but overall there is a relation between chemistry and the environment that really has to be addressed at the upstream level.


As evident from projections by the United Nations, population demands on water resources will continue to climb. For the 4 billion to 7 billion people projected, in addition to supplies of food and water, will there be adequate goods and services? Will there be plastic bags? Will there be floors and ceilings? When this equation of population growth is carried out into the products, goods and services, and rising standard of living that is being demanded, it ties back to what the chemical community has to supply.

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