Category Archives: Commentary

Silver speeds chemical reactions with oxygen.

Huang, Z,  X Gu, Q Cao, P Hu, J Hao, J Li and X Tang. 2012. Catalytically active single-atom sites fabricated from silver particles. Angewandte Chemie

Synopsis by Marty Mulvihill

In a new study, researchers report using silver in a safer, cheaper, cleaner method to run chemical reactions – specifically the widely-used and universally-important oxidation reactions. The new system works at low temperatures and is 10 times more efficient than previous attempts.

In the quest to save money and prevent waste when making chemicals for industrial and consumer applications, laboratory chemists are looking to a new generation of catalysts to speed up reactions with less mess. Catalysts are added to chemical reactions to help efficiently transform raw materials into products.

In a recent advance, researchers report how silver – placed in a specific pattern on a stable molecular nanostructure – can act as a catalyst and promote reactions at low temperatures using safe and abundant materials like oxygen in the reaction.

The new system is 10 times more efficient than previous attempts. It not only conserves resources, but it will help researchers better understand how to use oxygen in industrial applications.

The silver-based catalyst converts oxygen from the air into a chemically reactive form that allows common industrial chemicals to be made more efficiently. The products of these reactions are the starting materials for a majority of chemical products.

Unlike previous catalysts that promote chemical reactions with oxygen, this silver-based model performs very well at low temperatures. Temperature is a key consideration. Lower temperatures reduce the amount of energy and potentially the cost of running these important reactions.

The new catalyst created by researchers in China represents a 10-fold improvement over previous methods for making these chemical products.

Catalysts increase the speed of chemical reactions. Yet they are not affected in the process. This allows catalysts to be reused and has helped expand their use in a wide range of manufacturing applications.

In addition to working at low temperatures, the catalyst uses oxygen as the only additional reactant. Traditionally oxidation reactions have used harsh chemicals and generated large quantities of hazardous waste. In this reaction the oxygen is incorporated into the product without producing any additional waste.

The results will help chemists understand how to better activate oxygen. Oxygen is often slow to react with other molecules because the molecule is very stable. It is usually found as two atoms paired together, hence its chemical nickname O2. These pairs must be broken apart before the individual oxygen atoms can react with other chemicals.

The new catalyst breaks the oxygen atoms apart. It uses individual silver atoms located near a surface that does not have oxygen as part of its molecular structure.

Using advanced chemical analysis tools, the scientists precisely characterized and explained the reactivity of the silver atoms that are attached to the surface of manganese oxide particle support. They verified the structure of their active catalyst with advanced microscopy and X-ray scattering techniques.

The catalyst is only in the development stages. Before it is ready for use in the chemical industry, chemists will need to show that it can perform oxidation reactions cheaply on a wide range of organic molecules. Read more science at Environmental Health News.

Bacteria detox process gives insight for safer chemicals.

Teufel, R, T Friedrich and G Fuchs. 2012. An oxygenase that forms and deoxygenates toxic epoxideNature

Synopsis by Jean-Philip Lumb
New insight on the way bacteria break down toxic chemicals could improve cleanup of contaminated sites and offer a molecular blueprint for chemicals that easily dismantle after use.

Chemists may now understand why some bacteria can break apart toxic substances without poisoning themselves. The answer centers on the surprising dual function of an enzyme that transforms harmful molecules into benign ones.

For the first time, German researchers have elucidated the precise actions of the enzyme nicknamed PaaABCE. It is known as a key player in the bacteria’s ability to dismantle and change molecules in a number of cell circumstances. The authors report their results in the journal Nature.

PaaABCE, they found, is unique because it has two distinct functions. On the one hand, it can insert oxygen into a toxic substance, setting it up for degradation. On the other hand, it can remove that same oxygen. The authors speculate that this dual function allows the bacteria to keep toxic materials in the cell at low levels, thus protecting the organism from harm during the detoxification process.

The report is significant because it increases understanding of the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use to detoxify their cell environments. The new insight could provide chemists with important instructions that would tell them how to dismantle old chemical pollutants and assemble new commercially viable ones that would possess decreased lifetimes in the environment.

Chemists produce molecules that serve important roles in countless commercial products. Coloring agents, plasticizers, odorants and preservatives are examples.

But what happens to these compounds once they are finished performing their intended function?

Many are released into the environment and linger there. A potential risk is that these molecules will accumulate in fatty tissues and pass up the food chain. This outcome is particularly troublesome given the lack of required biological testing before a new chemical is introduced into a commercial product.

Even though chemical breakdown in the environment is as equally important as synthesis, it can be far more challenging. Most industrial chemicals are designed to be stable to avoid premature degradation. This same stability causes problems when molecules are released into the environment after their intended commercial life.

A potential solution is to design chemicals that common bacteria in the soil or water can readily break down into innocuous substances. In this fashion, chemicals could perform their purpose in a product, but would then rapidly degrade when released into the environment, ensuring the integrity of natural systems.

In order for chemists to be able to design chemicals with these properties, the precise mechanisms that bacteria use, and also the nature of the intermediates that are involved in the breakdown pathways, need to be well understood.

This study takes an important step in that direction. By successfully reconstituting the biochemical machinery that is required for specific bacteria (Pseudomonas sp.) to break down the chemical phenyl acetic acid, the researchers clarified the role of an essential enzyme that performs an unprecedented chemical reaction in the biochemical pathway.

In the key step of the process, the enzyme PaaABCE adds an oxygen atom in a chemical reaction known as an epoxidation. The product of this reaction is reactive, and is immediately transformed into innocuous byproducts by a series of other enzymes.

At this point, the authors know all of the atoms that comprise PaaABCE, but not their arrangement in space. Therefore, the next step will be to figure out its structure. Knowing its chemical structure will allow chemists to design new synthetic catalysts to remediate soil or purify water. Read more science at Environmental Health News.

Silver from nanoparticles found in plants and animals.

Synopsis by Marty Mulvihill and Wendy Hessler

Benjamin Espinasse, CEINT, Duke University
Mesocosms provided outdoor labs to study silver nanoparticles.

The silver from tiny particles used to kill microbes in clothing and other consumer goods may wind up in plants, insects and fish, according to new research. The study is the first to track how silver nanoparticles react, change and move through ecosystems, and it adds to a growing number of studies that raise concerns about their widespread use as anti-microbial agents. Researchers have not yet studied their potential effect on plants and animals.



Manufacturers are putting silver nanoparticles into a growing list of consumer products despite the fact that little is known about their health or environmental impacts. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies estimates that as of 2010, more than 300 products use sliver nanoparticles as an antimicrobial agent. These items include clothing, food storage containers, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, electronics and optical devices.Silver nanoparticles are very small chunks of silver metal made up of thousands of silver atoms. They are so small that 400 million would fit in the period at the end of this sentence. A chemical coat is often added to prevent clumping and protect their silver core.The element silver discourages the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates silver and some related compounds as pesticides. The agency supports health and safety testing of the highly used silver nanoparticles but does not regulate their specific use.Like most nanoparticles, silver varieties have benefits and risks. Their unique size gives them properties different from both large pieces of silver and individual silver ions. As antibacterial agents, the silver nanoparticles are far more effective, cheaper and use less silver than many alternatives.Silver’s ability to kill bacteria has raised concerns that the nanomaterials may affect beneficial bacteria and the plants and animals essential to a healthy ecosystem. While it is not considered toxic to people, invertebrates and fish are far more sensitive to silver.Cell studies suggest silver affects nerve cells, while silver nanoparticles have been shown to interfere with human sperm development. It is known that fish are vulnerable to even low doses of silver, andstudies indicate that silver nanoparticles can cause malformations and death in embryos exposed to the materials (Bar-Ilan et al. 2009). Exposure to silver also affects reproduction in clams (Brown et al. 2003).Silver nanoparticles are released from products during normal use and washing. They enter the environment through wastewater, as water treatment facilities do not always remove them completely (Keagi et al. 2011).Researchers are rushing to understand what happens to nanoparticles after they are released. Initial studies suggest they can clump together to make larger particles, dissolve to release silver ions and react with oxygen and sulfur to form new types of particles.



What did they do?

Silver nanoparticles were sprayed onto soil and water in simulated terrestrial and wetland habitats to determine how the particles might change chemically, move through the ecosystems and interact with plants and animals after they get into the environment.The researchers built the habitats (called mesocosms) in open boxes and left them outside in Duke Forest – a Duke University research area in North Carolina – for 18 months. They added wetland plants typical to the southern United States. Mosquitofish and insects were accidentally introduced with the plants and soils. Other wild insects colonized the ecosystems. Many of the species completed their life cycles during the project.They regularly sampled the soil, water and fish to follow how the silver moved through the constructed environment. At the end, silver levels were analyzed in the soil, water, plants and animals – the fish, fish embryos and insects. They also measured distinct silver compounds to determine how the silver ions reacted with oxygen, sulfur and chlorine in the soils and water.Silver levels measured in the dosed plots were compared to the levels measured in the control plots where silver nanoparticles had not been applied.



What did they find?

Researchers found silver accumulated in both the terrestrial plants (up to 3 percent of the total added) and the aquatic animals.Plants growing in soil that had been dosed with nanoparticles had up to 18 parts per million silver while lower silver levels – ranging from 1 – 7 parts per million – were measured in the plants growing near the water that was dosed with the silver nanoparticles. In all cases, silver was measured in plants that started growing 6 months or more after the application of silver nanoparticles, indicating that the plants could absorb the silver from the soil.They also measured levels of silver in the fish and insects, which included mosquitofish, dragonfly larvae and midges. The mosquitofish had 20 – 30 times higher silver levels than fish in the control plots.More troubling were the high levels (10 – 20 times higher than control) of silver that passed from female mosquitofish to their developing embryos. However, the majority of the silver – about 70 percent of the total put into the systems – was recovered from the soils and the wetland sediments. In addition, for silver nanoparticles applied to the terrestrial environment, erosion and runoff carried some of the metal from the soils into the water where it mostly settled in the sediments.The silver nanoparticles reacted and changed after they were released, but differed between the terrestrial and water habitats. By the end of the study only 18 percent of the silver that was added to the water remained in the original form. The majority – 55 percent – had reacted with sulfur to form silver sulfide, while about 27 percent bound to the organic matter in the bottom sediment.Particles applied to the terrestrial environment were slightly less reactive. Forty-seven percent remained in the original form, while 52 percent reacted to form silver sulfide. These reactions happened more slowly than predicted by laboratory experiments, showing that lab studies do not always accurately predict what happens in the environment.


What does it mean?

In terrestrial soil and water, silver nanoparticles can chemically change and contaminate plants and animals with silver. Any health effects from exposures to the metal in this way are not known.The outdoor study from North Carolina is one of the first long term ones to examine how silver nanoparticles change in the environment, specifically in soils, sediments and water. It is also a first step to clarifying where the silver nanoparticles move to after they enter the environment. One surprise was that they tend to settle in the soil and in the sediments underwater.The researchers demonstrated that under realistic conditions the majority of the silver nanoparticles reacted with sulfur and oxygen, changing their structure and function. These newly created silver compounds can be more stable and less toxic than the silver nanoparticles.Over time, though, they may build up in the environment, providing relatively large quantities of silver that can be incorporated into plants and animals. These long-term reservoirs of silver in soils and sediments may lead to increased exposures. For example, silver was found in plants that started growing six months after the nanoparticles were applied.Once changed, the newly formed silver compounds migrated through the soil and water. Runoff and erosion also moved the metal compounds and the nanoparticles. Eventually, the silver was taken up by the plants, insects and fish living in the mock ecosystems.Silver also passed from the mother fish to her embryos. The transfer of contaminants from one generation to the next exposes the embryos early in development and can have long-term effects on health, reproduction and populations (Wu et al. 2010).The effects on plants and other animals in this study are still unknown. Previous research indicates silver can harm fish, clams and other aquatic species.A next step may be to determine if these exposures have any health effects on the species studied. Scientists will also need to determine the levels of silver nanoparticles released into the environment from consumer products. Initial results from a study done on socks containing silver nanoparticles show more than 50 percent of the silver escapes during the first few washings (Geranio et al. 2009). It will also be important to identify the levels of silver nanoparticles that remain intact after release and to understand plant and animal exposures.As more data become available, it may be important to evaluate which products will benefit most from having the silver nanoparticles and which ones may not be worth the risk they may pose to health and environment.(Audrey Bone, Doctoral Student, Duke University, Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program contributed to this synopsis.)


Read more science at Environmental Heath News.

green bubbles beakers

Making Safer Products: A Chemical Design Protocol for Chemists

AGC session at Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference 2012 

Tuesday, June 19, 3:20 –  5:20 / McKinley Room


Using Scientific Findings From the Environmental Health Sciences to Avoid Endocrine Disruption in the Chemical Design Process

Pete Myers, Environmental Health Sciences

Karen Peabody O’Brien, Advancing Green Chemistry

A central goal of green chemistry is to avoid hazard in the design of new chemicals. This objective is best achieved when information about a chemical’s potential hazardous effects is obtained as early in the design process as feasible. Endocrine disruption is a hazard that to date has been inadequately addressed by both industrial and regulatory science. To aid green chemists in avoiding this hazard, we propose an endocrine disruption testing protocol for use by green chemists in the design of new materials.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – Principles of Endocrinology for Chemical Design and Public Health Protection.

R. Thomas Zoeller, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Epidemiological and experimental studies continue to show adverse effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from exposure levels far below what risk assessments indicate are safe. Because EDCs interfere with hormone action, it is essential to design experiments and interpret their results in terms of the very large literature that informs us about the role of endocrine systems in health and disease. Principles of endocrinology important to this field include hormone-receptor interactions, the spatial and temporal characteristics of hormone action in relation to development and adult health, and the regulatory circuits that control delivery of hormones to the proper targets at the proper time. These principles should inform basic research and regulatory science as well as to guide chemists in the design of safe chemical products.

The Relationships Between Exposures to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Adverse Human Health Effects.

Laura N. Vandenberg,

 Department of Biology and the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, Tufts University

A growing number of studies overwhelmingly suggest that environmentally relevant doses of EDCs influence human health and disease. Hundreds of human and animal studies challenge traditional concepts in toxicology, in particular the dogma that “the dose makes the poison”, because EDCs can have effects at low doses that are not predicted by effects at higher doses.  Additionally, a large body of evidence indicates that hormones and EDCs produce non-monotonic dose responses (NMDRs), defined as non-linear relationships between dose and effect where the slope of the curve changes sign within the range of doses examined. These data indicate that the effects of low doses cannot be predicted by high dose studies. Thus, fundamental changes in how chemicals are tested are needed to protect human health.

Researchers close in on making a natural malaria drug.

Westfall, PJ, DJ Pitera, JR Lenihan, D Eng, FX Woolard, R Regentin, T Horning, H Tsuruta, DJ Melis, A Owens, S Fickes, D Diola, KR Benjamin, JD Keasling, MD Leavell, DJ McPhee, NS Renninger, JD Newman and CJ Paddon. 2012. Production of amorphadiene in yeast, and its conversion to dihydroartemisinic acid, precursor to the antimalarial agent artemisinin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Synopsis by Jean-Philip Lumb

A new approach to making the natural malaria drug artemisinin will increase supply and avoid the chemical steps now used to extract the drug from plants. The drug is meant to replace medicines that no longer control the malaria parasite spread by mosquitoes.

An affordable treatment for malaria is closer thanks to a process using both biology and chemistry to make artemisinin – an effective drug currently extracted from plants.

The method bypasses plants as the source of the drug. Instead, modified yeast change sugar into an advanced chemical that can be converted into artemisinin. Skirting plants decreases the cost, increases supply and avoids chemical extractions. A team of industrial and academic researchers in Berkeley, Calif., developed the biochemical route to the drug.

The process provides an alternative to traditional extractive procedures and highlights the increasing use of biotechnology in greener drug manufacturing.

Globally, the mosquito-borne infectious disease claims nearly 1 million lives per year. Health organizations estimate that 300 – 500 million people are infected on an annual basis, a population based primarily of children in Africa and Asia.

New medicines are needed because the current drugs do not work as well as they once did and controlling mosquitoes with insecticides – such as DDT – can harm the environment and human health.

Artemisinin is a desirable substitute to the widely used chloroquine-based antimalarial drugs. The Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria has become resistant to these traditional drugs.

While faster acting and more effective, artemisinin is expensive and supplies are often limited. Artemisinin is currently extracted from plants. Unfortunately, the extraction makes large-scale production too costly for countries where the drug is needed most. The methods also employ volatile organic solvents that levy a heavy environmental toll.

To overcome the current limitations in supply, a consortium of industry and academic researchers in California developed a new strain of yeast that can convert glucose into an artemisinin precursor. Standard organic chemistry practices are used for the remaining steps of the drug’s synthesis.

The combined biotechnology/synthetic chemistry approach promises to be an effective alternative to the extraction techniques currently in use. The cost is estimated as low as 300 million cures at 50 cents a treatment. A recent press-release, issued on the Amyris website, announced a partnership between Amyris, The Institute for OneWorld Health and Sanofi-Aventis to make doses of artemisinin available later this year.

Read more science at Environmental Health News.

Photo 16

Trivia Challenge

The second AGC competition is a Trivia Challenge/Scavenger Hunt. Here’s how it works: everyday that I ask a question on our facebook page, you will email your answer to Each question will have a certain number of points assigned to it. The person with the most points at the end of the competition will win a lovely print from Tara Winona. Check out her facebook page here.

Note: do not write the answer on the facebook page!


A Petition to the US EPA to Reinstate Green Chemistry Funding.

Demand that EPA Reinstate Green Chemistry Program

Environment, Petitions — By on April 29, 2012 7:51 am @ForceChange

Target: EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Goal: To demand that grants promised to green chemistry programs be reinstated.

With all of the news about toxic substances in the foods we eat and the clothes we wear, it should come as no surprise that some scientists are looking for alternatives. The relatively new branch of “green chemistry” is aimed at developing processes and compounds that are environmentally safe, to replace the decades old dangerous processes that we have today. Unfortunately, the EPA has just announced that it is revoking twenty million dollars in grants that would have gone to this important field.

The twenty million dollars was supposed to go towards funding four new green chemistry facilities, an important step in a budding field. Scientists were already submitting grant proposals when the news came that the EPA was cutting off all funding for the program. No explanation has been given.

Despite the EPA’s claims that the money “may be available in the future” scientists are skeptical. One university professor said that he had never heard of a government agency pulling all of its funding for a program so close to the grant proposal deadline. The last day to submit proposals was just three weeks away when the EPA yanked its funding. Some scientists had already been working on raising funds for their projects and getting grant writers for months when the news came.

Green chemistry is an important new field because it not only takes consumer health into consideration, but the environment. And green chemistry the entire lifecycle of a product—meaning that it ensures that the compound will not become toxic when it decomposes. In an age where the environment is constantly under threat, the EPA must step up and use its resources to aid scientists who want to make the world a better place. Let your voice be heard. Speak up and let the EPA know that the green chemistry program must continue.

Sign the Petition here. 

Leather trash turns to medical treasure.

Synopsis by Wim Thielemans and Audrey Moores, Apr 20, 2012

Catalina, M, J Cot, AM Balu, JC Serrano-Ruiz and R Luque. 2011. Tailor-made biopolymers from leather waste valorisation. Green chemistry

A versatile and potentially valuable natural material could be easily collected from the abundant waste produced when leather is made from animal hides, according to researchers from Spain who explain their novel process in the journal Green Chemistry.

Leather processing generates large amounts of remnant hides that are generally thrown away. But this solid waste is rich in a valuable and medically useful protein called collagen. This new method to recycle or reuse the waste alleviates the dumping, produces a necessary product and increases sustainable manufacturing.

Collagen is abundant in mammals and is an important part of muscle, tendons, ligaments, skin, guts, vessels and bone. The resilient, soft and flexible material does not trigger immune reactions, making it a rich resource for medical, cosmetics and veterinary applications. Collagen is used for implants, as sutures and in regenerative medicine – a field of medicine that grows new human cells, tissues or organs for transplant.

The researchers tested different extraction scenarios for their effect on the amount and quality of the collagen. They extracted the protein from two different types of processed cowhides to demonstrate the versatility of the technique.

The hides were cut, treated with acid and ground into a water solution. This process allowed the collagen molecules to dissolve in water. The collagen particles ranged in size from a few nanometers to a few dozen nanometers. Because size matters for collagen applications, the particles were filtered and separated according to their size.

To find the best method, they varied a number of factors, such as temperature, leather pieces, size after grinding, the nature of the acid, stir speed and type of water solution. The optimal results for yield came from an extraction using acetic acid – basically vinegar – for 24 hours at 25oC and a smaller particle size after grinding.

Next, they manipulated the extracted collagen molecules to determine their stability and mechanical properties. In fact, the use of collagen from leather is often limited because of the poor mechanical properties of the recovered collagen. Specifically, collagen must be rigid enough while not swelling too much when exposed to water. Here the researchers found a simple chemical treatment to render the collagen firm and stable.

From this method, they made several different kinds of materials – fibers, sponges, films, threads and gels – with rigidity and swelling in water properties necessary for biomedical applications.

The research is a good example of finding new ways to use a waste material for high value applications. More work will need to be done to compare the properties of these materials with commercial collagens. The next step will be to show the collagen source is reliable and free of contamination.

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The above work by Environmental Health News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

blue beakers leaf

Chloramine in Charlottesville: Questions and Chemistry

By: Mana Sassanpour

There is serious discussion about treating drinking water in Charlottesville with chloramine.  AGC wanted to get some background and answers:


Q: How and Why did the idea of introducing chloramines into our water begin?

A: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to reduce the amount of bacteria and other biological contaminants in our water. Our local Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is tasked with enforcing EPA standards. Currently, the Charlottesville water system uses chlorine to disinfect our water, but there is concern that chlorine is not enough to keep up with EPA standards.

There are other disinfection options, but chloramines are the most cost effective method, and the RWSA wants to start using them by 2014.


Q: How are chlorine and chloramines similar?

A: Both chlorine and chloramines work to disinfect water – they

also both produce toxic byproducts.


Q: What byproducts do chloramines and chlorine produce?

A: Chloramines produce N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Among its adverse health affects are: liver tumors and ‘poisoning the liver’.  Chloramine is a known carcinogen. Both chlorine and chloramine compounds are known to be toxic to fish and frogs. Treating water chlorine produces trihalomethane (a byproduct of chlorine and organic material), a chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects.


Q: What are the benefits of using chlorine?

A: Unlike chloramines, chlorine can be boiled off in water because it is more unstable. Chlorine also breaks down more quickly than chloramines do, reducing the amount of it that you ingest once the water reaches your tap.


Q: What are some of the negative effects of using Chloramines?

A: These compounds are formed by ammonia (NH3) reacting with a free chlorine in water. Depending on the pH of the water, the resulting chloramine can be one of three products. Only one of these products works as a good disinfectant, creating the additional need to maintain a basic pH for the chemical to function. Furthermore, chloramines are suspected of making water more corrosive and leaching lead from pipes into water. This effect has been seen in the Washington, D.C. area.


Q: Are there any ‘safe’ alternatives?

A: There is Green Chemistry being done to find cleaner and greener alternatives for purifying water. The Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University under the leadership of Professor Terry Collins is working on a low-cost greener alternative using “TAML” catalysts and hydrogen peroxide. TAML catalysts not only disinfect water but also can break down chemical contaminants such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals (which neither of the methods above can do).  Read more about the work being done on TAML catalysts here.


To read more research on chloramines and health click here. To find out more about the compound click here.

green test tubes blue flask

EPA cancels $20-million green chemistry grant program, gives no explanation

In an announcement that stunned scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cancelled grant applications for what was supposed to be a $20-million, four-year green chemistry program. The mysterious cancellation comes less than three weeks before the deadline for the proposals. The grants, which were supposed to fund four new centers, would have been a major new source of funding for green chemistry, a field that seeks to design environmentally friendly chemicals and processes that can replace toxic substances. The requests for proposals may be reissued, the EPA said. But the program’s sudden halt and uncertain future — and lack of explanation — have left scientists disheartened. “My reaction is shock that it happened and total dismay that what appeared to be a novel program was cancelled without warning or explanation,” said Eric Beckman, a chemical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh.

Joshua Vaughn/flickr
Green chemistry’s aim is to design environmentally friendly chemicals and processes that can replace toxic substances currently in use.

By Brett Israel
Senior Editor and Staff Writer
Environmental Health News
April 10, 2012
In an announcement that stunned scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cancelled grant applications for what was supposed to be a $20-million, four-year green chemistry program.

The mysterious cancellation, announced on Friday, came less than three weeks before the April 25 deadline for the grant proposals.

The federal grants, which were supposed to fund four new academic centers, would have been a major new source of funding for green chemistry, a field that seeks to design environmentally friendly chemicals and processes that can replace toxic substances.

The requests for proposals may be reissued, the EPA said Monday. But the program’s sudden halt and uncertain future – and lack of explanation – have left scientists disheartened. Lab researchers had worked for months on their proposals and scientists now fear their hard work will be wasted.

“My reaction is shock that it happened and total dismay that what appeared to be a novel program was cancelled without warning or explanation,” said Eric Beckman, a chemical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh who was working on a proposal.

Terry Collins, a green chemist at Carnegie Mellon University and a pioneer in the field, said the announcement “stunned me.” Collins was on a team of green chemists and other environmental scientists that had been working for months to put together a funding proposal. West Coast institutions, including University of California, Berkeley, also were developing a proposal.

Beckman said he’d never seen such a thing happen before – a government agency pulling the plug on a request for proposals so close to its deadline – in his more than 20 years in academia.

Eric Beckman, a University of Pittsburgh chemical engineer, said he’d never seen such a thing happen before – a government agency pulling the plug on a request for proposals so close to its deadline – in his more than 20 years in academia.The $20 million in funding would be “one of the most significant sources of dedicated support for green chemistry so it is a blow to the community that the call for applications was cancelled without explanation,” said Evan Beach, a green chemist at Yale University. “Everybody was in the home stretch on writing. The preparations took several months.”

The EPA offered no reason for the last-minute cancellation.

 “Given the new and emerging research areas…EPA determined that it was necessary to further explore these research areas and also consider changes to its usual review process,” Kelly Widener, assistant director for research communications at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, said in an email response to Environmental Health News.
Widener, who declined to elaborate, said the EPA anticipates re-issuing its requests for proposals in June or July.
Green chemistry, according to the EPA, is “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances…across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.”
The new program – to create Centers for Material Life Cycle Safety and Centers for Sustainable Molecular Design – was announced in late December as a part of the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program.
The green chemistry centers were to draw together scientists from wide-ranging disciplines, including engineering, chemistry, social science and physics, to develop “improved methods for the design of next generation chemicals,” the EPA said when it announced the available funding.
“This holistic approach to design, which considers all the stages of a material’s life cycle, provides an opportunity to produce materials which minimize, and preferably eliminate, any associated potential environmental and human health impacts that may occur during the life cycle,” the original request for proposals said
That funding for such a promising area of science was halted without explanation at the last minute has many researchers scratching their heads.
“For the EPA to treat so wastefully the field that holds most of the keys to a good future for the relationships between chemical products and processes and the environment and health is mystifying to say the least,” Collins said. Read more science at Environmental Health News.