Toward designing safer chemicals

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Science  16 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6219, pp. 215
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa6736


One year ago, an industrial coal-processing liquid contaminated the Elk River in West Virginia and affected the tap water of 15% of the state's population. The spill was declared a federal disaster, and ongoing investigations remain. Last month, a report assessing the water and health impacts of the Elk River spill pointed to the lack of a sound scientific approach for responding to and recovering from such incidents.* This year also marks 5 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and last month brought the 30-year anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands, considered the world's worst industrial disaster. Despite our best efforts and intentions, human-made chemicals continue to be released into the environment, often with unquantified and potentially unquantifiable deleterious consequences. The questions posed to science are how to better understand the nature of synthetic substances in order to predict their potential adverse impacts on humans and the biosphere, and how do we design future substances to eliminate the need for engineered control systems.

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