Green Chemistry = Social & Environmental Justice

Honored Contributor
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Contributed By Ed Brush, Professor of Chemistry and Coordinator of Project GreenLab, Bridgewater State University

The vision statement of the American Chemical Society reads, “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.” Chemistry has inarguably provided numerous contributions to humanity, however, we also need to be aware of the unintended consequences of chemicals on human and environmental health. Hazardous chemicals are disproportionally impacting children and adults in low income, minority neighborhoods, while the presence of naturally-occurring and human-made chemicals restrict access to clean air and water. This violates our definition of social and environmental justice where all people, regardless of race or economic status, have the right to live, work, play and learn in healthy, safe environments.

“Green chemists” share a set of common principles that guide us in making smart choices in how we design, make, use and dispose of chemicals and chemical products.  Green chemistry has the potential to offer solutions to help correct many of these disparities. This perspective was shared by over 75 attendees at the 20th Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Portland this past June, who participated in a symposium on green chemistry and the social and environmental (in)justice of chemical exposure. The purpose of this unique symposium was to bring together, for the first time, a multidisciplinary group of participants to begin exploring and understanding the racial and socioeconomic disparities in how hazardous chemicals impact society.Ed Brush Graphic.png

The symposium began with a brief overview to set the perspective that included contributions from attendees who shared their views on the disproportionate exposure of chemicals on society. The tone for the symposium was set by Mary Kirchhoff, Director of ACS Education Division, who gave an excellent overview in her talk on “Chemistry in a Social Justice Context”. Mary nicely defined social justice from a historical perspective, as well as the EPA’s roadmap to integrate environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities.  Additional contributors to the symposium were Annelle Mendez, Michael Cann, Ed Brush and Olga Krel. When considering the breakthrough technologies recognized through the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge awards, many of these have made significant contributions to cleaner air and water, and the safer design and use of chemicals and chemical products. It is implicit that green chemistry = social and environmental justice, and fully complements the dynamic ACS Mission Statement, “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.”

All those interested in continuing this discussion are encouraged to submit contributions to the Nexus Newsletter and Blog. Contributors are also invited to join in a proposed session on green chemistry and issues of social/environmental justice during the symposium on “Green Chemistry Theory & Practice” at the ACS meeting in San Francisco in April 2017, and at the 21st Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Reston, VA in June 2017.

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To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.