Spring is green – and so is chemistry

Spring is not the only thing that’s going green.  At many schools in New York, so is chemistry. And it won’t end when the seasons change.

 Science teacher Rose Hochmuth, a member of the Schalmont TA, shows how to operate a clock using wires and a potato. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Science teacher Rose Hochmuth, a member of the Schalmont TA, shows how to operate a clock using wires and a potato. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

In an article in the April issue of NYSUT United, teachers shared how they are using green chemistry to reduce toxins, prevent pollution; increase safety; reduce or eliminate disposal of dangerous chemicals;and  reduce costs. Science teachers practicing this new chemistry use many non-toxic substances to create chemical reactions in classroom labs. They reduce or eliminate their use of highly hazardous heavy metals or  volatile organic solvents.Most are being helped in the transition from existing chemistry practices to green chemistry by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been hosting workshops around the state through the help of a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. More than 100 districts have participated already, using college campuses as training sites.

More help is on the way: This summer, the DEC is hosting a Green Chemistry Summer Institute from June 30-July 3 at Siena College in Loudonville in the Capital Region.

Why should science teachers be paying attention? Walter Schoepf, EPA project manager, shared an EPA report, Unleashing Green: Chemistry and Engineering in Service of a Sustainable Future (PDF), that explains why green chemistry is so important to educators.

“Colleges and universities can prepare students entering the workforce with the skills to help solve regional and global environmental problems. Moreover, K-12 and community education serve to educate the majority of citizens on sustainability issues and how they are relevant to their daily lives. Integrating green chemistry throughout the different stages of education is essential to creating a workforce and public that is well educated in the importance and the benefits of sustainable development. Through the integration of green chemistry in educational institutions, the following benefits can be realized: healthier, safer schools; a well-informed public; higher student retention and engagement; and better preparation for the workforce.”

Schoepf shared his enthusiasm for NYSUT’s support of green chemistry in a letter to the statewide union.

“It is very timely and noteworthy that NYSUT is engaged with green chemistry in the classroom.  This topic is important because of the connection between green chemistry, the enhancement of public health and safety, innovation, teacher capacity building,  and encouragement of science and learning in the classroom.  Teachers are continuing their legacy of caring and sharing when they take green chemistry into the classroom and use the principles of green chemistry to develop innovative lesson plans that reach the next generation of professionals.

Opportunities exist to further advance these types of initiatives. Be a champion for green chemistry and engage with your local university faculty to find out what they are doing and if they can help. Create the demand!”

If you have any questions about EPA’s programs related to green chemistry, please feel free to contact Mr. Walter H. Schoepf, project manager and Environmental Scientist, Pollution Prevention and Climate Change Section, US EPA Region 2 at 212-637-3729 or at Schoepf.walter@epa.gov.

Green chemistry is defined by the EPA as the science of creating components and processes that are sustainable from the very beginning of the lifespan of a product. By designing and creating better building blocks at the design stage, products and technologies can have vast benefits, including reduced pollution and other hazards to health and environment, increased efficiency and enhanced performance.

“For educators, it can be a tool for inspiring students to pursue scientific careers, providing context to a subject that is often abstract,” the EPA report says.

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