Synthetic chemists should take more responsibility to avoid the development of toxic chemicals, researchers say.

Do we really know that there is such a thing as a safe chemical?

With more than 80,000 chemicals being produced in the United States alone, it is difficult to accurately predict one chemical’s effects on human individuals.

Nevertheless, in order to increase the odds of manufacturing safer chemicals, chemists are urged to avoid certain molecular properties that are likely to lead to toxicity.

According to a recent article in Nature News, leading researchers are asking for a more responsible approach to developing safer chemicals and the change the ways chemists have become used to.

Chemists should consider toxicity earlier, researchers say

Traditionally, when chemists design new detergents, shampoos, paints and lubricants, they don’t immediately consider whether their molecules will have toxic side effects because that was left to toxicologists further down the production line.

The researchers show in a paper published in Green Chemistry that synthetic chemist need to obey two key rules of thumb to greatly reduce the chances of a molecule being highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.

Decades of safety tests have generated enough data for researchers to learn how chemicals produce toxic effects, and computer models are picking out the molecular properties that underlie this activity.

“Rather than measuring how bad something is after it’s made, and then going back to the drawing board, you can start to design molecules in what is likely to be a safer chemical space,” says Paul Anastas, one of the co-authors.

A long way to go for safer and greener chemicals

The design of inherently safer molecules is a goal that Anastas has been working towards for years. He is well known as one of the co-founders of the ‘green chemistry’ movement, which aims to cut down on toxic chemicals and processes.

He admits that there are many aspects of toxicity (such as reproductive toxicity) that are currently not sufficiently well understood for design ‘rules’ to be created that would steer past them.

Other researchers warn that there is still a long way to go before toxicity can be accurately predicted for all chemicals.

Source: Nature News 

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