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1 Introduction For millennia, advances in human progress have been tied to our ability to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of the wastes we produce ranging from human waste to the organic and inorganic by-products of everyday living. Across the world, cultures learned to bury their dead away from their homes and to burn their waste or make certain that it was carried away by streams and rivers flowing downstream from their homes. Those cultures that learned this most ef- fectively thrived. When the industrial revolution took place in the nineteenth cen- tury, rivers again enabled progress. They provided water needed for power and energy, and they carried away the waste materials from industrial processes. However, things had changed by the middle of the twentieth century. The increase in human population and the growth of modern industry were leading to signs that the system was overloaded. There were reports of rivers that had turned orange or had caught on fire, the smog over some cities was becoming intoler- able, and there were signs of negative health consequences from buried waste. The methods of waste disposal that had helped us build our modern society were turning back on us. Public attention was captured by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, and events surrounding the Vietnam war were changing the political landscape. In 1970 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed, and the Clean Air Act was passed later that same year. Additional legislation fol- lowed to cover other areas of the environment. Many of the problems that needed to be solved were chemical in nature, and the chemical industry was seen by many as the source of our environmental prob- iRache] Carson, Silent Spring; Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1962. 7
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8 THE ENVIRONMENT lems. Suddenly we had moved beyond industry and modern technology as the source of our high quality of life. The chemical industry was no longer viewed in a positive light. As with most such situations, there were conflicts between regu- latory policy and the financial interests of the companies being regulated, and progress was sometimes slow. But changes have been made. The rivers are cleaner, and the smog has decreased. Bird populations are no longer suffering the effects of DDT, and disposal of chemical waste is carried out in a safer and more reliable manner. The chemical industry, through the American Chemistry Coun- cil, has established a strong industry standard with its Responsible Care program. The committee organized a workshop that was held in Irvine, California, in November 2002, to address ways in which chemists and chemical engineers could focus their R&D efforts on the solution of environmental problems. This report is part of a broader project, Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Cen- tury. The overview report for the project includes a chapter on Atmospheric and Environmental Chemistry.2 A series of speakers (Appendix F) presented lectures (Appendix D) on topics that covered all parts of the environment the biosphere, the atmosphere, soil, and water. They addressed issues in manufacturing, energy production, and remediation of those parts of the environment that already have suffered damage. Considerable input for the report was also provided by a series of breakout sessions (Appendix G) in which all workshop attendees participated (Appendix E). These breakout sessions explored the ways in which chemists and chemical engineers already have contributed to solving environmental problems, the technical challenges that they can help to overcome in the future, and the barriers that will have to be overcome for them to do so. The specific questions addressed in the four breakout sessions were the following: · Discovery: What major discoveries or advances related to the environ- ment have been made in the chemical sciences during the last several decades? · Interfaces: What are the major environment-related discoveries and chal- lenges at the interfaces between chemistry-chemical engineering and other disci- plines, including biology, information science, materials science, and physics? · Challenges: What are the environment-related grand challenges in the chemical sciences and engineering? · Infastructure: What are the issues at the intersection of environmental studies and the chemical sciences for which there are structural challenges and opportunities in teaching, research, equipment and instrumentation, facilities, and personnel? 2Beyond the Molecular Frontier: Challenges for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, National Research Council, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.
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INTRODUCTION 9 We've seen much progress in the past few decades, but more remains to be done. Some regulations are in place, while others are still being developed. The anxiety over global climate change has introduced an entirely new set of concerns in the last decade, with conflicting proposals about how the world should respond. One thing is certain, however, and that is the need for the chemical sciences commu- nity to participate in solving the problems.
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