New green cleaning products have been appearing on grocery store shelves thanks to Melanie Vrabel, an alum of Carnegie Mellon's Mellon College of Science. Recognizable by their DfE logo — which stands for Design for the Environment — these products have been formulated with green chemistry principles resulting in a safer product for human health and the environment.
Vrabel, who works at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, personally assists companies like Clorox, Method and SC Johnson in choosing safer ingredients for their products.
"It is incredibly rewarding to be able to have had such noticeable, positive impact," Vrabel said of her work with the DfE Formulator Team, which was responsible for reducing the use of more than 80 million pounds of pollutant and toxic chemicals in 2007 alone.
She and four of her colleagues were presented recently with the James W. Craig Pollution Prevention Leadership Award. A national EPA honor, the award recognized their development of practical pollution prevention solutions to environmental problems.
To help manufacturers like Clorox substitute green chemicals for hazardous ones in their product formulations, DfE helped to develop an online resource for green formulation called the CleanGredients(r) database. This "electronic marketplace" allows raw material manufacturers to showcase their safer chemicals offerings and helps cleaning product manufacturers to select safer ingredients for their products.
Vrabel's passion for green chemistry dates back to her days at Carnegie Mellon. Using Fe-TAML(r) activator technology — which are synthetic catalysts made with elements found in nature — she was able to break down in water the natural estrogens and the active ingredients in the birth control pill.
These natural and synthetic compounds can mimic or block the activities of hormones in wildlife and humans, which may disrupt the normal functions of the endocrine system and impair development. Vrabel's discovery holds practical promise for eliminating water of pollutants that feminize aquatic organisms. Her work recently appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
"Melanie was an excellent chemistry student in my group, with a passion for public service," said Terry Collins, Carnegie Mellon's Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry. "I am delighted to see her and her colleagues' work leading to their receipt of the prestigious James W. Craig Pollution Prevention Leadership Award."