Carnegie Mellon University

Green Solutions

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Chemists Clean Up the Water

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Every week, the media reports more troubling news about hazardous synthetic chemicals in America's waterways. The culprit chemicals impact our rivers, our lakes and beaches — even our drinking water.

According to Professor Terry Collins, director of Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Green Science, some of the pollutants threaten human and animal health even at levels to which we are now exposed.

"The most troubling health effects are associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that may interfere with the hormones controlling development leading to impaired organisms," said Collins.

He continued, "A number of common chemicals have been found to be EDCs and these are being found more and more in our bodies."

Fortunately, chemists at the institute are producing solutions for decontaminating the water of a number of these common chemicals.

Working with small molecule catalysts called TAML activators that Professor Collins designed to mimic enzymes, scientists and students at the institute are finding ways to rid water of hazardous pollutants. Short for tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand, TAML activators work with hydrogen peroxide to rapidly and efficiently break down a wide variety of persistent toxic compounds.

In the lab and real-world situations, TAML-activated peroxide has destroyed persistent pesticides, estrogens, organochlorines and dyes as well as a multitude of other contaminants. In a process that is remarkable for its effectiveness and environmental friendliness, TAML/peroxide also kills bacterial spores similar to those of anthrax as well as other life-threatening pathogens.

"This research has an impact that extends well beyond America and other industrialized nations," Collins explained. "Attaining reliably safe drinking water for all people is one of the most important technological challenges facing the world."

Committed to creating cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions to pollution problems, Collins believes that TAMLs will save companies money as they work to meet environmental laws in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. And they may help clean up drinking water.

"One advantage of TAML technology is that it requires minimal retooling of the peroxide-based chemical processes currently being used by large corporations," said Collins.

The invention of TAML catalysts is one of the many achievements of green chemistry, which strives to design new products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances.

Professor Collins taught the first university course in green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University starting in 1992.

Related Links: Terry Collins's Podcast on Green Chemistry [iTunes]  |  Institute for Green Science  |  Dept of Chemistry  |  Mellon College of Science