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Lesson Six: Adverse Effects of Chemicals on Health and the Environment


Video Lecture

William Perkin

View the online lecture for the details necessary to understand this lesson's key ideas.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Relate the history of the beginning of the oil and chemical industries.
  • State and analyze a false premise that has historically underpinned the chemical enterprise.
  • Define and explain the range of effects of chemicals on health and the environment that green chemists must design against.

The chemical enterprise touches almost every aspect of our lives—it is integral to the products we buy and use, and the lives we lead.  Unfortunately, traditional chemistry also has a large impact on our lives in other ways—it creates waste and hazard.  This is largely because from the very beginning of modern chemistry, chemists have primarily considered the effectiveness of a chemical, not the negative effects it might have on the environment or human health.  Among other problems, this has led to the unintended creation of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The prevalence of EDCs illustrates how crucial it is, especially for the sake of future generations, that we acknowledge the need for truly sustainable chemistry.

To explore this module's material in depth, view the lecture.

Key Points

  • Although the oil and chemical industries have only been around for 150 years, they have had a profound impact on human health and the environment.
  • The flawed premise on which the current chemical enterprise assumes that chemicals do not have a negative impact on human health or the environment.
  • Research shows that chemicals can have adverse effects at all levels of both the human body and the ecosystem.
  • Understanding Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), as well as how to avoid them, is central to the practice of green chemistry.