Environmental experts are raising the alarm bells about everything from our drinking water to what's in the air we breathe. Of specific concern today are "endocrine disruptors."
Some compounds used in commerce are being found to be endocrine disruptors that can disrupt the hormonal control of cellular development even at ultra-low exposure levels. Carnegie Mellon's Terry Collins is one of the leading green chemists working on solutions to the problem.
Collins, the Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry and director of the university's Institute for Green Science, says endocrine disruptors are to the chemical industry what sub-prime mortgages are to the banking industry.
"It's important not to drag our feet," he emphasized.
He recently joined fellow green chemists and environmental health science experts at the University of California, Irvine. Their mission: to discuss how the two fields can work together to ensure that new chemical compounds are both profitable and safe.
Strategic changes that are needed to advance green chemistry's development include stronger laws and regulations, more investment and better training, according to Collins.
"Understanding how some chemicals alter cellular development to better avoid these properties in new chemicals is a vital frontier for preventing disease and improving human health," he said.
Safer substitutes appear to have already been invented for some hazardous chemicals, but Collins said they are not being manufactured because it is hard for industry to replace capital and marketing investments that are profitable. Governments need to find ways to help industry make sustainability related transitions, he said.
He recommended multiple changes in policies to help transform industrial chemicals, including the prioritization of chemicals that should be replaced.
"We have no choice but to embark on a systematic course to adapt the economy to the realities that endocrine disruptors represent," he said.
Scientists at the meeting stressed the importance of acting now to prevent harm from coming to future generations.
At Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Green Science, students and researchers have developed advanced oxidation processes that allow trace quantities of many persistent organic pollutants in water, including some endocrine disruptors, to be rapidly degraded.
The approach relies on Collins' TAML® activators, small molecule catalysts that activate hydrogen peroxide. TAML® activators are successful mimics of peroxidase enzymes, nature's catalysts for activating hydrogen peroxide to oxidize organic compounds.