Introduction to special issue

A cleaner, greener future for chemicals

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Science  24 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6476, pp. 378-379
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba8242

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Chemists and their colleagues work to understand and manipulate the properties of synthetic molecules as they are developed and enter the environment. More sustainable and less harmful chemicals can help us protect and rehabilitate a world already full of chemicals.

ILLUSTRATION: ADAM SIMPSON

Since the Industrial Revolution, developments in chemistry have transformed entire sectors of the global economy, often providing great benefits to society and quality of life. But the production, mass distribution, and disposal of increasingly complex and persistent chemical products have resulted in many cases of ecological and environmental damage. Harmful effects for people are often concentrated in those communities least able to avoid exposure, and concern over unfamiliar chemicals in our food, water, and homes is widespread. How can we continue to develop molecules that address today's challenges while ensuring that we understand the effects of complex and ubiquitous chemicals on our health and the environment?

On a global level, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil-derived raw inputs is imperative to achieve a sustainable future. New chemical transformations are necessary to supplement or supplant many of those we rely on currently. We must also reckon with the fate of the myriad complex chemicals used in agriculture, consumer products, drugs, and materials. We now have many sophisticated tools to understand what happens to these molecules as they are released into the environment. Our health, and that of ecosystems around the world, depends on our commitment to gathering this information and taking action accordingly.

  • Julia Fahrenkamp-Uppenbrink conceived this special issue.

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