Green Chemistry Principle #4

Designing Safer Chemicals

Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.

Contributed by Nicholas D. Anastas, Ph.D., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- New England

Minimizing toxicity, while simultaneously maintaining function and efficacy, may be one of the most challenging aspects of designing safer products and processes. Achieving this goal requires an understanding of not only chemistry but also of the principles of toxicology and environmental science. Highly reactive chemicals are often used by chemists to manufacture products because they are quite valuable at affecting molecular transformations. However, they are also more likely to react with unintended biological targets, human and ecological, resulting in unwanted adverse effects. Without understanding the fundamental structure hazard relationship, even the most skilled molecular magician enters the challenge lacking a complete toolkit.

Mastering the art and science of toxicology requires innovative approaches to chemical characterization that state that hazard is a design flaw and must be addressed at the genesis of molecular design. The intrinsic hazard of elements and molecules is a fundamental chemical property that must be characterized, evaluated and managed as part of a systems-based strategy for chemical design.

Now is the ideal time to develop a comprehensive and cooperative effort between toxicologists and chemists, focused on training the next generation of scientists to design safer chemicals in a truly holistic and trans-disciplinary manner through innovative curricular advancements. The field of toxicology is evolving rapidly, incorporating and applying the advancements made in molecular biology to reveal the mechanisms of toxicity. Elucidation of these pathways serve as the starting point for articulating design rules that are required by chemists to guide their choices in a quest to make safer chemicals. We are at the dawn of a new sunrise, poised to illuminate the path forward to a safer, healthier and more sustainable world.

More Resources and Examples

Anastas, N. Green Toxicology, 2012 in: Green Techniques for Organic Synthesis and Medicinal Chemistry, W. Zhang and B. Cue, eds., J Wiley.

Anastas, N.D. and J.C. Warner. 2005. Incorporating Hazard Reduction as a Design Criterion in Green Chemistry, Chem. Health. Safety, March/April, 3-15.

Green Chemistry Metrics: Measuring and Monitoring Sustainable Processes, 2009, A. Lapkin and D. Constable eds., J. Wiley.

Green Chemistry Education: Changing the Course of Chemistry, 2009, ACS Symposium Series 1011, P.T. Anastas, I. Levy and K.E. Parent, eds. J. Wiley

Designing Safer Chemicals, 1996, S. DeVito and R. Garrett eds., ACS Symposium Series 640.

US EPA, 2013, (accessed 3/3/13)


Although these references are given to provide additional information that may be useful or interesting, EPA is not responsible for, and cannot attest to the accuracy of, the content of these articles.