Nowadays, just about everything we put on us, or in us or is around us has been touched by advanced chemistry applications in some way. Just 60 years ago, the clothes we wore, medicine we took, cosmetics we put on our face, food we ate and products we used did not rely so heavily on man-made chemicals and petroleum-based materials.
Advances in engineering and the manufacturing of plastics, medicines, and textiles have given us many products that were inconceivable a few decades ago. Mobile phones, high performance athletic gear, antibiotics, new cancer treatments, and jumbo airplanes are just a few examples of the uses of these new materials.
Unfortunately, along with the convenience and benefits of these new chemicals, there are some potentially very harmful effects on human health. According to Elisabeth Grossman in her enlightening book, Chasing Molecules:
“95 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control had chemicals used to make common plastics and cosmetics in their blood. Among these effects are reproductive, metabolic, immune systems and neurological disorders, effects that can lead to such chronic conditions as diabetes, obesity and learning difficulties. Many of these chemicals have been identified as endocrine disruptors for their ability to interfere with the workings of the hormones that regulate and maintain a number of the body’s reproductive, metabolic, and other vital systems. Overall, these compounds are so pervasive that nearly all babies in the U.S. are now born with synthetic chemicals already in their bloodstream.”
It turns out that many of these new molecules are traveling around the world, many are not biodegradable and in some cases they can even detach themselves from their products. These molecules are showing up in the wind, groundwater, seas, water, soil, plants, animals, and dust. This would help explain why sea turtles can be found with chemicals for polyester flame retardants inside them. When the chemicals get into our bloodstream, some of these synthetic chemicals can disrupt the healthy functions of many of our normal biological mechanisms.
This is concerning news. But to be honest, I never really thought much about chemistry and how it affects our lives until mid August 2010, when I attended a Green Chemistry lecture by Dr. John Warner at the Clean Tech InnoVenture Center in Lynn, Mass.
Most of us involved with the center are familiar with the topics of renewable energy, waste reduction and energy efficiency, but green chemistry was a new one for us. In order to learn more about green chemistry and its promise for a more sustainable future, I went to visit Warner at the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry (WBI) and Amy Cannon at the Beyond Benign Foundation located next door. Cannon is devoted to promoting awareness and understanding about green chemistry among young students, communities and the workforce. She and her team work to inspire young people to enter the field of chemistry and science where they may be able to have a positive impact on a more sustainable future. […]