Chasing Molecules
288 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Sep 2011
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Chasing Molecules

Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry

Island Press

Each day, headlines warn that baby bottles are leaching dangerous chemicals, nonstick pans are causing infertility, and plastic containers are making us fat. What if green chemistry could change all that? What if rather than toxics, our economy ran on harmless, environmentally-friendly materials?

Elizabeth Grossman, an acclaimed journalist who brought national attention to the contaminants hidden in computers and other high tech electronics, now tackles the hazards of ordinary consumer products. She shows that for the sake of convenience, efficiency, and short-term safety, we have created synthetic chemicals that fundamentally change, at a molecular level, the way our bodies work. The consequences range from diabetes to cancer, reproductive and neurological disorders.

Yet it’s hard to imagine life without the creature comforts current materials provide—and Grossman argues we do not have to. A scientific revolution is introducing products that are “benign by design,” developing manufacturing processes that consider health impacts at every stage, and is creating new compounds that mimic rather than disrupt natural systems. Through interviews with leading researchers, Grossman gives us a first look at this radical transformation.

Green chemistry is just getting underway, but it offers hope that we can indeed create products that benefit health, the environment, and industry.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of High Tech Trash, Watershed, and Adventuring Along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, The Nation, Salon, The Washington Post, and other publications. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Chapter 1: There’s Something in the Air

Chapter 2: Swimmers, Hoppers, and Fliers

Chapter 3: Laboratory Curiosities and Chemical Unknowns

Chapter 4: The Polycarbonate Problem

Chapter 5: Plasticizers: Health Risks or Fifty Years of Denial of Data?

Chapter 6: The Persistent and Pernicious

Chapter 7: Out of the Frying Pan

Chapter 8: Nanotechnology: Perils and Promise of  the Infinitesimal

Chapter 9: Material Consequences: Toward a Greening of  Chemistry

Epilogue: Redesigning the Future


Appendix: The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry and Further Information


Select Bibliography


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