Previously when we discussed green chemistry, we listed 12 Principles of Green Chemistry the American Chemical Society has developed as guides. They are:
- Atom Economy
- Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
- Designing Safer Chemicals
- Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
- Design for Energy Efficiency
- Use of Renewable Feedstocks
- Reduce Derivatives
- Design for Degradation
- Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
- Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention
The fourth one, Designing Safer Chemicals, is one that is vitally important for all of us, as any chemicals we use today have both a present and future impact. The ACS explains: “Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.”
People have been creating or refining chemicals to do certain jobs for thousands of years, but prior to the industrial revolution most of those chemicals were made from everyday organic ingredients that were only modified in small ways. Wine can be drunk, but vinegar is useful in dozens, if not hundreds, of daily applications. Both are biodegradable and do minimal damage to the environment.
When businesses began manufacturing items in bulk and from more complex materials like metal alloys or plastics, they started inventing chemicals that would allow them to make products faster and to make ones that had specific applications and would be stronger, brighter, more flexible and more durable. Today we are surrounded by products made from synthetic materials, and many of them are unable to be produced, cleaned, or even destroyed without similarly complex chemicals.
Because companies didn’t fully understand – or sometimes care enough – how those chemicals would affect the people who used them and the environments in which they were used, some of the unintended consequences were disastrous. These include sick and dying workers and Superfund sites. Solvents created both many solutions and many problems. Chemicals solvents were able to do many things other organic solutions couldn’t. They were used to remove dirt, grime, and grease from a variety of parts that needed to be cleaned, and also in paints, degreasers, glues, and adhesives. Unfortunately generations of people who worked with solvents may have sickened, died, or experienced lesser quality of life because of them.
The American Chemical Society acknowledges that designing safer chemicals is one of the largest challenges for green chemistry. The fact is, we still need degreasers, glues, paints, and parts washers, and we need them to work to specification. The parts washers that AEC designs for our clients keep automobile engines running and aircraft flying, and most of us rely on cars, trucks, and planes to get to where we need to go or deliver the products we use every day. We are unwilling to go back to the way people lived in 1900 or even 1950, and chemistry is an important component of the modern lifestyle.
So all of us need researchers to find new chemicals that will clean well and without toxicity. That’s a tall order because it requires a knowledge of toxicology, environmental science, biology, and chemistry. However, if we want our children to live in a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly world, however, we need to make the investment.
AEC Systems designs and manufactures solvent-free washers. The aqueous parts washers we produce use heat, water, and corrosion-free detergents to clean the parts our customers need cleaned to their specifications. We are proud to be a part of a trend of green chemistry in the 21st century.