Green Chemistry and Sustainability

Dr. Rita Upmacis, professor at Pace University, delivered an engaging and inspiring talk on the future of Green Chemistry and Sustainability, hosted by the WCC Chemistry Club on November 29.

Green Chemistry is a term coined very recently. It encompasses “the utilization of a set of principles that encourages alternative ways of generating new and existing chemical products without unnecessary risks to human health and pollution,” said Upmacis quoting the Founding Fathers of Green Chemistry, Paul Anastas and John Warner.

“Dealing with fundamental global concerns such as sustainable resources, climate change, public health, food, water, pollution, and clean and renewable energy,” said Upmacis, “The chemical industry faces huge challenges, but also immense opportunities.”

Chemistry has been utilized to improve the quality of human life, especially within the medical field. The development of antibiotics is an excellent example. However, chemistry has also contributed in less obvious areas such as transportation, communication, clothing and shelter. Despite this positive scenario, the chemical industry is regarded by some to have a bad reputation nowadays.

Several unpredictable and unintended effects from the use of chemicals may have contributed to the overall falling image of chemistry. DDT, for instance, was largely used as a pesticide until proven to be harmful to birds and also related to cancer in humans; DDT was banned in 1972. Another example of chemical side effects was the use of Thalidomide. Prescribed to pregnant women in Europe around the year 1957 to lessen the symptoms of morning sickness, it caused acute birth-defects such as missing or deformed limbs. There have also been some devastating industrial disasters: Bhopal, India in 1984, and Port of Tianjin, China in 2015. Dr. Upmacis also mentioned the disastrous relationship between chlorofluorocarbons and the polar ozone hole.

“All substances are chemicals, whether they are synthesized by man or found in nature,” said Upmacis, while advocating for the need of Green Chemistry. Addressing the world’s needs in the present is unavoidable, so the best possible scenario is that it is done without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is all about surviving and taking care of the environment, but it is also about business.

Besides the alarming and pressing subject touching on the very survival of humankind on this planet, the talk was filled with hope. Ekram Gbara, president of the Chemistry Club, was exultant, feeling inspired by seeing two female chemistry specialists in the spotlight. “Dr Jody Reifenberg, the head of the Chemistry Department, and Dr Upmacis are examples for me,” she said. Andrea Mesa, a student of the first year of Engineering Science, was also emboldened. “Today I was a bit upset because I had bad grades on a quiz, but after this lecture I felt inspired,” Mesa said. “I was thinking on giving up, but now I am thinking on working harder.

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