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Terry Collins – Green Chemistry Leader

~Interview by Alicia Jumman for Ecochem.

In the run-up to the conference, Ecochem, organizers are presenting interviews with academics, innovators or experts to provide an insight of their opinions of Green Chemistry.

The first in the series is an interview with Terry Collins, leading researcher from Carnegie Mellon University, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry, and leader of the Institute for Green Science. As a distinguished expert in the field of Green Chemistry we are delighted to have Terry Collins as a  Speaker at Ecochem this November. Collins discussion at our conference shall focus on TAML activators, a subject matter that he briefly touches on during his interview.

Q1) Could you please provide a brief introduction of the main area of your work?

I have invented the first full functional, small molecule mimics of any of the great families of oxidizing enzymes. They are called TAML activators and they mimic the peroxidase enzymes.

  • So first, in the Institute for Green Science, we study these by furthering the iterative design protocol that led to them in the first place, thereby making progressively more powerful and useful catalysts.
  • Second, we analyze the catalytic mechanisms of TAML processes and have taken this so far that we now have one of the best-understood mechanisms of a complex catalytic cycle in chemistry.
  • Third, just think about the obvious importance. TAML activators are inexpensive, truly small molecules, dazzlingly effective catalysts that activate one of the principal oxidizing agents of biochemistry by mimicking the highly efficient reactive intermediates and mechanisms of the enzymes. So we have been building the range of demonstrated applications and can realistically claim that the number of possible efficient applications is enormous.

I will speak about the application that most enthuses me which involves the use of TAML/peroxide to reduce/eliminate with outstanding efficiency trace endocrine disruptors in water.

  • Fourth, it turns out that some large volume everyday chemicals disrupt the hormonal control of cellular development and signaling to produce impaired creatures. This has tectonic significance to the chemical enterprise’s role in pursuing sustainability. Since I have the goal of seeing TAML/peroxide being used to remove endocrine disruptors from water on a large scale, I clearly also want to know that commercialized TAML activators are not themselves endocrine disruptors through their full lifecycle. Until recently, no one knew how to determine  whether or not a chemical compound is an endocrine disruptor. I was privileged to be a member of a team of environmental health scientists and green chemists that produced over several years the Tiered Protocol for Endocrine Disruption (TiPED), which was published this January in the journal Green  Chemistry. The living TiPED allows green chemists to know to the highest standards of contemporary science whether they have produced an endocrine disruptor. TAML catalysts are being run through the various tiers of assays showing that the TiPED is fully capable of catching developmental disruptors while giving added confidence that compounds that test negative are not endocrine disruptors.  This adds greatly to the satisfaction we have derived upon finding that TAML/peroxide can decompose easily the most potent known endocrine disruptors in municipal effluent streams.

TAML

Q2)Green Chemistry represents a market that is predicted to grow from $2.8billion (2011) to $98.5 billion(2020), what is your opinion on this acceleration within the industry? What are the main drivers behind this boom?

Well you have to be careful here with these predictions. I don’t know what the number is, but I would never accept any number without knowing the details of the products and processes that it derives from.

You have to ask if everything that is being called “green chemistry” is actually green chemistry.

Does it not make sense that the core responsibility of green chemists should to build the chemical dimension of a sustainable civilization? If this is our prime objective, then green chemists have to pay careful attention to whether or not a chemical product or process is non-hazardous throughout its full life cycle. And you have to be able to recognize and accept that certain technologies can’t be greened up—no matter what you do, the fundamental characteristics are such that these technologies will always be negative with respect to sustainability. If we don’t handle these challenges carefully, then the field by 2020 could sum to a grandiose failure. There are several monumental challenges here.

You can’t play games with mother nature.

First and foremost, incumbent unsustainable technologies are so often backed up by vast resources at a time when research money is particularly hard to come by. Green chemists have to be very careful that they do not get seduced into greenwashing unredeemable civilization killers. Second, you can’t play games with mother nature. She knows if a product or process is hazardous or not. So you have to study the hazard space of the full life cycle and ensure that no serious hazards are being overlooked or under appreciated.

If I had confidence that the present and projected numbers you quote do apply or will apply to technologies that are not tainted by greenwashing, then I would be truly impressed.

Q3) What is your opinion on the current identity of sustainability and Green Chemistry amongst your profession?

The truly exciting thing for any chemist engaging with a sustainability challenge is that he or she can be sure that they are working on a vitally important problem. The importance often directly pertains not only to the welfare of our own species, but often to all other living things as well.

In my opinion, we have huge and unmistakable sustainability challenges in the chemical professions.

The technical problem space spans our needs to deal with endocrine disruptors, persistent molecular compounds, toxic elements in distributive technologies, safe energy, renewable feedstocks, and nonhazardous synthetic procedures.

Progress is certainly being made in these various areas, but much more is needed. We need especially to recognize that sustainability challenges in the chemical professions are just as often cultural as they are technical. In the cultural dimension, we are currently babes in the woods when it comes to insight into how we must change to build a chemical technology base that is sustainable in its entirety. There is a big question mark over whether or not we will be able to find the will and the stamina to make the changes that trans-generational justice is clearly demanding right now. Again, the biggest problem is that many of our toxic products and processes are associated with big cash flows, which are powerfully defended. Personally, I think the best way to equip our students to be able to be leaders in handling the cultural challenges is to teach them the histories of our mistakes. These are often exquisitely documented and leave a lasting impression.

We need especially to recognize that sustainability challenges in the chemical professions are just as often cultural as they are technical.

 

Q4) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that the Green Chemistry community will face towards their goal for a sustainable future?

The biggest challenge is undoubtedly cultural. Sustainability has a compass. We must learn to choose to develop technologies that promise, based on the best contemporary science, to promote a sustainable future and move assertively away from those that are leading us toward an unsustainable future.

We have many energy and chemical technologies that are objectively ruinous of sustainability. These cannot be ignored if we are serious about pursuing sustainability. Yet a disquieting number of them are currently being expanded with abandon. The health and environmental penalties are being externalized in ways that militate against future generations and the future good for all life. All this is happening while there are often objectively sustainable choices clearly in existence to allow us to be honest by choosing to expand them instead.

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So there is a serious leadership problem in parts of the chemical enterprise and this is echoed within the political establishments of many countries. The fact that the unsustainable technologies possess so much of the money is often controlling the power dynamic. I guess if you are big business making a lot of money from one of the technologies I am thinking of, then this might all sound like heresy to you. But if you are big business that has the desire and fortitude to lead humanity toward a sustainable future, then perhaps this is music to your ears. With sustainability, I don’t think any big industry can be a Janus and expect to be admired by history.

If you are developing sustainable products and processes while also expanding unsustainable products and processes, I am pretty sure you have a big problem as far as mother nature is concerned. And it is her opinion and the judgment of future generations that matter most when it comes to sustainability.

Q5) Do you think the image of the Green and Sustainable Chemistry industry needs to be altered to be more appealing for big businesses?

This is the wrong question.
You are asking if I believe our field needs to change its image to appeal more to big business. The right question is whether or not I believe the field needs to change its image to appeal more to mother nature. The same question needs to be put fairly and squarely before big business.
The reality for both big business and green chemistry is that you cannot negotiate with mother nature. Mother nature is a positional negotiator. She will tell you through science what the consequences of this or that technology choice will be. But there is no sweet-talking her out of her hard positions.

If big business wants to be positive force in building a sustainable world, and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t really want that, then it has to take seriously the hard messages of science when they are conveying that profits are coming from unsustainable technologies. To be the great positive force it can be for sustainability, big business has to be its own harshest critic. It has to continue to be demanding of itself and it has to help the political leadership to put in place the incentives and constraints that make sustainable products and processes more attractive.

To be the great positive force it can be for sustainability, big business has to be its own harshest critic.

While there may be occasional exceptions to this following generality, when big business sends armies of lobbyists into the capitals of the world to tell the politicians that the science pointing to problems with their products is untrustworthy, it squanders opportunities to be a force for great good in the world. If we continue to expand the unsustainable products and processes, we will continue to entrench an unsustainable world for the kids and the grandkids.

If our civilization is to have a good future, we must continue to do our best to figure out how to make it more rewarding for big business to pursue sustainable trajectories. We have to figure out how better integrate health and the environment into the value proposition of technological progress. And big business needs to advance the public faith that it is genuinely sincere in its pursuit of sustainability. This is not a PR challenge for big business. This is the challenge of eschewing those profitable technologies that the scientific facts say are unsustainable and focusing on all that it takes to make sustainable alternatives profitable.

Q6) You’re speaking at Ecochem in November on the significance of water decontamination. How significant will this topic be to the global drive for sustainability?

I like to work on what I believe are the most important problems I might contribute to solving. Every human being, every animal, every fish, every aquatic organism deserves to thrive on or in water that is uncontaminated by the products and byproducts of the chemical enterprise. Bringing this about is one of the greatest sustainability challenges of our time.

So I derive the greatest of satisfaction from seeing in my lab at Carnegie Mellon University and in Susan Jobling’s lab at Brunel University’s Institute for the Environment as well as in field trials at a British municipal water plant how effective TAML/peroxide is in removing trace bioactive contaminants from water.

Q7) What, or who, are you most looking forward to hearing speak at our Ecochem conference and why?

I am really interested in getting the snapshot this conference offers of how well the field of green chemistry is doing in promoting sustainability.

 

Ecochem would like to say thank you to Terry Collins for taking part in our interview series. We are excited to bring these discussions with Terry to the Ecochem community and look forward to his talks at our conference.

 

Terry shall be speaking about TAML activators, under a Technical stream focused on Clean Synthesis & Process Intensification. For more information about our  Ecochem Conference & Exhibiton please download the event brochure.

TiPED circle 200

A New Tool to Design Safer Products

   New publication:  A New System to Assess New Chemicals for Endocrine Disruption

    A groundbreaking new paper outlines a safety testing system that helps chemists design inherently safer chemicals and processes.       Resulting from a cross-disciplinary collaboration among scientists, the innovative “TiPED” testing system (Tiered Protocol for Endocrine  Disruption) provides information for making chemicals and consumer products safer. TiPED can be applied at different phases of the chemical design process, and can steer companies away from inadvertently creating harmful products, and thus avoid adding another BPA or DDT to commerce.

    The study, “Designing Endocrine Disruption Out of the Next Generation of Chemicals,” is online in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry.

    The 23 authors are biologists, green chemists and others from North America and Europe who say that recent product recalls and bans reveal that neither product manufacturers nor the government have adequate tools for dealing with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  EDCs are chemicals commonly used in consumer products that can mimic hormones and lead to a host of modern day health epidemics including cancers, learning disabilities and immune system disorders. The authors conclude that as our understanding of the threat to human health grows, the need for an effective testing strategy for endocrine disrupting chemicals becomes imperative.

Historically, chemists have aimed to make products that are effective and economical. Considering toxicity when designing new chemicals has not been their responsibility. This collaboration between fields expands the scope of both biologists and chemists to lead to a way to design safer chemicals.

Scientific understanding of endocrine disruption has developed rapidly over the past 2 decades, providing detailed, mechanistic insights into the inherent hazards of chemicals.  TiPED uses these insights to guide chemical design toward safer materials.  And as consumers are increasingly concerned about endocrine disruption (eg BPA, flame retardants) they are demanding products that do not contain EDCs, creating a market opportunity for companies that can take advantage of the new science.

There is a companion website to the paper, www.TiPEDinfo.com. One can access the paper there and learn more about the TiPED system.

 

McGill workshop

Building Links Between Green Chemists and Business in Education.

On September 7 and 8, 2012, McGill University (Montréal, Canada) hosted a unique workshop designed to foster green innovation in the next generation. Ten MBA students from the Desautels Faculty of Management and ten PhD candidates from the departments of chemistry and civil engineering were gathered to reflect on this concept. Two guests speakers gave lectures putting green chemistry in the context of industry.

The first one, by Phil Dell’Orco, head of sustainability at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), addressed the question of fostering and coordinating green chemistry in a large pharmaceutical company. Lynn Leger from Green Center Canada presented how her organization is constantly touring universities (in Canada and outside)

 

PHOTO: Phil Dell’Oroco, Process Engineering at GlaxoSmithKline. By Owen Egan for the McGill Reporter

to find scientific innovations and bring them to the market. She elaborated on  some of the challenges associated with the transition from research to the market. We also had a few smaller classes to introduce the concepts of green chemistry, such as the green principles and metrics, and what it takes to be successful in innovation, as well as green drivers of innovation.

Students were then divided into mixed groups (composed of both business and chemistry and engineering students) and had to work together on building a case study. They were given an innovation, coming straight from Green Centre Canada – an antibacterial compound mimicking garlic active ingredient. Students had to find a market, build a financial case and work some of the chemistry associated.

They came out of it with amazing presentations on their ideas and demonstrated outstanding ability to interact with people from a different  discipline. They all pointed out how much they appreciated being exposed to a difference academic culture and recognized the importance of building bonds across disciplines to bridge the gap towards greener innovations.

This workshop was made possible through funding from the CREATE program of  NSERC, a Canadian federal funding agency, and the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management. Steve Maguire (from the School of Management) and I created an organized the whole two-day event. And we’re very excited about it. We’ll definitely do it again next year.

Read about the workshop in the McGill Reporter.

By Audrey Moores, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry
McGill University

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“Don’t put that junk on your junk”


I recently said this to my favorite cyclist when discussing that he may not want to apply chamois cream containing parabens (the junk) to his junk. Male cyclists are repeatedly applying (maybe daily, for 5-7 hours at a time) these paraben containing creams to their reproductive parts. Research is showing that maybe they should reconsider.

 

You may see parabens listed as “methylparaben” “propylparaben” or “butylparaben” Etc.  Don’t let that fool you; these compounds are all structurally and functionally similar compounds, each just has an additional carbon group – the methyl, propyl, or butyl.

 

Parabens’ alias is alkyl hydroxy benzoate, not as easily recognizable, but still present on food and cosmetic labels. You can find these parabens in hair products, skin care products, or even your salad dressing! For male cyclists, they are in most creams that are applied to the groin area to alleviate chafing against the saddle of the bike.

 

Studies have shown that parabens can mimic the female sex hormone estrogen (Gomez et al 2005) and in turn can act as endocrine disruptors, inhibiting “testosterone (T)-induced transcriptional activity” (Chen et al 2007). Also, “exposure of post-weaning mammals to butyl paraben adversely affects the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system.” Similar effects can be seen with propyl paraben (Oishi 2002).

 

What are other potential effects of this chemical on males? Recent research has shown parabens in association with  breast cancer, though causality has not yet been established (Khanna et al 2012).  This may seem irrelevant for men unless one considers the fact that breast cancer among men is actually on the rise.

 

Additionally, these chemicals may reduce male fertility. Butylparaben was shown in the lab to have an adverse effect on the male mouse reproductive system in that it damaged the late steps of spermatogenesis in the testis (Oishi 2002). Similar effects can be seen for other forms of parabens. They are also suspected of affecting the mitochondria in rat testes, reducing virility (Tavares et al 2008).

 

Male cyclists might want to look for anti-chafe chamois creams that do not contain parabens, such as creams containing lanolin, the oil in sheep’s wool. You can even make lanolin cream in your own home, following this recipe (but make sure the lanolin you use is high quality and pesticide free).

 

Alternatively, one can pay closer attention to the label on chamois cream to ensure that it does not contain parabens.

 

If you are a cyclist, know a cyclist, or love a cyclist, please share this with them.

 

By: Mana Sassanpour

 

Sources:

1. Antiandrogenic properties of parabens and other phenolic containing small molecules in personal care products. J. Chen, K.C. Ahn, N.A. Gee, S.J. Gee, B.D. Hammock, B.L. Lasley. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. Volume 221, Issue 3, 278–284, 2007.

 

2. Effects of propyl paraben on the male reproductive system. S. Oishi. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Volume 40, Issue 12, 1807 – 1815, 2002.

 

3. Estrogenic activity of cosmetic components in reporter cell lines: parabens, UV screens, and musks. E. Gomez, A. Pillon, H. Fenet, D. Rosain, M. J. Duchesne, J. C. Nicolas, P. Balaguer, C. Casellas. 
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 
Vol. 68, Iss. 4, 2005.

 

4. Male breast carcinoma: increased awareness needed. J. White, O. Kearins, D. Dodwell, K. Horgan, A.M. Hanby, V. Speirs. Breast Cancer Research. Volume 13, Issue 5, 219, 2011.

 

5. Organ toxicity and mechanisms: effects of butyl paraben on the male reproductive system in mice. S. Oishi. Archives of Toxicology. Volume 76, Number 7, 423-429, 2002.

 

6. Parabens enable suspension growth of MCF-10A immortalized, non-transformed human breast epithelial cells. S Khanna and P.D. Darbre. Journal of Applied Toxicology. doi: 10.1002/jat.2753, 2012.

 

7. Parabens in male infertility—Is there a mitochondrial connection? R.S. Tavares, F.C. Martins, P.J. Oliveira, J. Ramalho-Santosa, F.P. Peixoto. Reproductive Toxicology. Volume 27, Issue 1, 1-7, 2009.

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.

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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 msassanpour@advancinggreenchemistry.org 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!

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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. 

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.

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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.