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Green Chemistry

An Innovative Approach to Chemistry for NYS Schools

Schools in New York State are showing increased interest in 'greening' their science curriculums. A "green chemistry" approach in schools can reduce risks to students, teachers and the environment.

Green Chemistry

In green chemistry, teachers assess the relative risks posed by the chemicals used in traditional chemistry experiments and select less-toxic materials to demonstrate green chemistry principles. By employing more environmentally benign reagents and solvents, green chemistry minimizes hazardous exposures that affect human health and the environment.

By adopting green chemistry, teachers and students learn to consider the impacts of the chemicals they work with throughout the chemical's life cycle, from use through disposal. In a green chemistry classroom, teachers and students alike will develop:

  • Understanding of sustainability practices
  • Understanding of how their decisions in the chemistry laboratory affect their health and the environment
  • Increased awareness of chemical toxicity.

DEC promotes Green Chemistry in schools

Chemicals are an essential tool for science teachers educating students to meet NYS Science Learning Standards and Core Curriculum. But when improperly managed, chemicals in schools can be dangerous to students, staff and the environment. Many schools have large inventories of chemicals that often include outdated and highly hazardous substances.

A green chemistry approach can save schools money by reducing the number of toxic chemicals they need to purchase, as well as reducing the need to dispose of them as of hazardous waste.

The Next Generation

Schools need to be able to prepare students for science and technology careers. Incorporating green chemistry principles into the curricula will give students a broad awareness of how to balance environmental, social and economic issues.

Green chemistry is the new frontier in science. It is critical for schools to begin teaching green chemistry principles to students at the high school level as the first step towards transforming how the next generation of chemists think and do business. By teaching green chemistry, today's teachers are poised to deliver new ideas in science and technology that will enhance sustainable practices.

The 12 principles of Green Chemistry

  1. Prevention - It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created.
  2. Atom Economy - Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses - Wherever practicable, synthetic methods should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals - Chemical products should be designed to effect their desired function while minimizing their toxicity.
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries - The use of auxiliary substances should be made unnecessary wherever possible and innocuous when used.
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency - Energy requirements of chemical processes should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. If possible, synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks - A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practicable.
  8. Reduce Derivatives - Unnecessary derivatization should be minimized or avoided if possible, because such steps require additional reagents and can generate waste.
  9. Catalysis - Catalytic reagents are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
  10. Design for Degradation - Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they break down into innocuous degradation products and do not persist in the environment.
  11. Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention - Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time, in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
  12. Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention - Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

The principles listed above were obtained from:

Anastas, P.T.; Warner, J.C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press: New York, 1998, p. 30.

Going Green with Chemistry

The Department was awarded a grant by Region 2 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to influence behavioral change in New York State schools by providing assistance in chemical management and inventorying and green chemistry training to high school science teachers in several locations in the state. A green chemistry candidate school was selected in each locality to feature as a case study in this project. The project was a collaborative effort with the NYS Education Department (SED) and the Board of Cooperative Extension Services (BOCES).

As part of this case study, NYSDEC reviewed each localities' green chemistry candidate school's chemical inventory with the aim of reducing, at the source, hazardous and high risk chemicals used and stored by high school laboratories. The data generated from the school's chemical inventory served as a baseline foundation to measure changes resulting from replacement of traditional chemistry by green chemistry practices. In addition, by providing green chemistry training to New York State's science teachers, NYSDEC will have taught the teachers to consider the life cycle of the chemicals they work with at the school laboratories, from purchasing to disposal, and how it can affect their health, potential liabilities, the impact on the environment and the costs associate with waste disposal.

Please email us at to obtain case studies.

Get started...

The first step for schools is to begin properly managing their chemical inventory. Most science departments want to do this, but they don't know how or are overwhelmed by the task. DEC can offer assistance to schools in chemical management.

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