Molecular Miracle Workers

Green chemist Paul Anastas on making the world less toxic and more convenient

| Utne Reader July / August 2007

Yale professor Paul Anastas is considered the father of green chemistry, a field he defines as 'the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.' He talks about the innovations in this burgeoning field and why chemists have a special responsibility to the environment.

Many people assume chemists are evil--they inevitably cause pollution.

People don't know we have the option of doing things green. They think that in order to have cars, computers, and other modern conveniences, we need to generate all kinds of nasty poisons. Green chemistry is disproving that myth every day.

What's really new about it?

We're touching on something that historically has not been done, which is to design molecules with an eye to consequences right from the start. If you just try to deal with a particular hazardous outcome--cancer or poisoning or explosions--then you're addressing things piecemeal. If you go back down to the molecular architecture, you can address a wide range of issues.

Has green chemistry actually taken hold anywhere?