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Green Chemistry is a philosophy rather than a discipline, and the toxicologist has an important role in the implementation of this philosophy. Broadly speaking, the goal of green chemistry is to reduce chemical pollution starting at the molecular level.  The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, co-authored by John Warner and Paul Anastas in the mid-1990’s, laid out the framework for the “greening” of the field of chemistry. By minimizing or eliminating the hazards related to raw materials, processes and products, adoption of the principles of Green Chemistry holds the promise of preventing pollution before it is created.  It is vitally important to understand the relative hazards of alternative raw materials and products in order to ensure that undesirable substitutions are not made.

What is Green Chemistry?

By reducing or eliminating hazardous chemicals through careful chemical design, pollution can conceivably be eliminated at the source

An overview of the field of green chemistry provided by the US EPA, including a short video clip:

A brief history of green chemistry:


12 Principles

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry were first described by John Warner and Paul Anastas.

The 12 Principles:


Principle #1:  It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created.


Principle #2:  Synthetic methods should be designed so that all of the raw materials are incorporated into the final substance.


Principle #3:  When possible, synthetic methods should be designed so that the raw materials and final substances produce little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.


Safer By Design

It is important to note that the chemist generally is not trained to evaluate chemical hazard, and so careful collaboration with a toxicologist is required to demonstrate that newly synthesized chemicals are indeed “safer” by design.  This is the hallmark of Principle #4 a.


Safe by Design:


Safer Alternatives

The evaluation of safer alternatives requires a structured evaluation process.  As this is a newly evolving area, the specifics on just how to conduct these reviews are still being developed.  The goal is to ensure that alternatives are thoroughly understood so that undesirable substitutions are not made during the process.

National Academies Press (FEE):


GreenScreen by Clean Production Actionb (Open Source):


a This video clip references a website called Good Guide. This website has not been reviewed for scientific validity and no endorsement of this site should be implied.

b There are many proposed evaluation processes.  The tool referenced here is an open source tool with transparent methodology that may provide useful guidance.  This does not, however, constitute TEF recommendation of GreenScreen certification or their training program for reviewers.


Related topic:  Hazard vs. Risk

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