green chemistry in light of catholic social teaching Heather Sanwald

Growing up I always had a niche for mysteries. I remember constantly being glued to mystery book series like Jigsaw Jones, A to Z Mysteries, and my all time favorite Nancy Drew. Every year during the school book fair, I would beg my mom to let me get the chemistry kits and then that same day be completing the experiments that came inside. I used to set an alarm for 7:00AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings just to get up and watch Scooby-Doo, and to be honest, I still do sometimes.

As I got older, I started to watch Criminal Minds, NCIS, and CSI. I found myself becoming more intrigued by crimes, why people commit crimes, and especially the work done in labs due to the crimes— the forensics. I recently ran into one of my grade school teachers and as we were catching up, he asked me what I was studying. When I told him Forensic Chemistry, he laughed and said “makes sense, I still remember your book report on Jeffrey Dahmer, that was a first for me.”

I guess he was right, it does make sense.

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4

I knew that a career within Forensic Chemistry was for me.

While all of these plans are wonderful, you have to ask: Why?

I was raised as a Catholic, so I have always believed that God will guide me towards the path that was intended for me. I see a correlation between chemistry and God. You may be wondering how, but it will make sense soon.

Through the six different Catholic Social Teachings, my future occupation is reflected.

Catholic Social Teachings and Chemistry

How could these possibly go together?

Dignity in Work: represented by respecting other workers, the knowledge that has been given, and the workspace provided.

Community and Participation: those working within chemical companies must work together to develop how their occupation is portrayed. An expression of who they are will be reflected in the work that is developed.

Care of Creation: Chemicals released into the environment can be detrimental, but as technology advances these harmful threats to the ecosystems decrease, which is where Green Chemistry comes in.

Every occupation has ways to make their own impact on how they can change the world.

For chemists, the impact of conscious change on behalf of the environment takes the form of a transition to green chemistry.


The design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. The application applies across the life cycle of a chemical product-- from the design, manufacture, to the use and the disposal.

Green Chemistry applies to innovative scientific solutions into real-world environmental problems, such as the impact of chemicals on the Earth's water supply. It also reduces the negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Also the generation of pollution will be reduced with the use of green chemistry.



1. Chemical reactions should be designed to prevent waste.

2. The final product should be in maximum proportion with the starting materials.

3. The reaction should generate substances with little to no toxicity.

4. The products should be fully effective, with little toxicity.

5. Avoid using solvents, but if needed use more eco-friendly solvents, such as water.

6. Run reactions at room temperature and pressure whenever possible.

7. Use materials that can be reused in future experiments.

8. Additional reagents produce a lot of waste.

9. The addition of a catalyst is extremely effective, but minimizes waste.

10. These products break down to harmless substances so they do not build up within the environment.

11. Maintain control of the reaction to minimize or eliminate the formation of unnecessary products.

12. Design products to minimize the potential for chemical accidents such as explosions, fires, and gasses released into the environment.


Paul T. Anastas, the Director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale, explains the importance of using Green Chemistry!

Not only does Green Chemistry touch the traditional industries that are mentioned in the video above, it is applicable to the Pope's second encyclical, Ladauto Si'.


Fun Fact

Pope Francis studied chemistry and worked as a chemist before entering the seminary!

Paragraph 21: "Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected."

Companies do not want to change the way that they create their products, whether it is pharmaceuticals, or beauty products—such as makeup, hairspray, and skin care products, until there is an extreme amount of deprecation to the wellbeing of humanity. If they are producing an income, that is all that matters.

Amgen, a biotech company used “synthetic processes to make active pharmaceutical ingredients which generates substantial waste”. For example, “an early clinical trial drug was created using transition-metal catalysts, the process had twelve steps, six purifications, yet only a 10% yield over the span of six months (Patel). Thankfully with the switch to a cleaner chemistry, currently, “the process is being completed in ten steps, no purifications, in the span of one month” (Patel). Green chemistry allows for a more ecofriendly reaction.

paragraph 29: “Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas”

This can easily be reduced if companies would make the change to green-chemistry. When possible, use of water within a chemical reaction instead of a harmful solvent can reduce the amount of wastes being poured into our rivers, lakes, and seas.

The Flint Water Crisis has been ongoing since 2014 and the chemical impact on the water is still present today. The chemical industry commonly uses trihalomethanes as solvents in reactions, especially chloroform, CHCl3. The three molecules of chlorine create a highly reactive nonmetallic compound that forms strongly acidic compounds once bonded to carbon molecules. They are “non-ecofriendly and are linked with numerous health concerns within the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart” (ACS).

paragraph 102: "science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”

While science is a wonderful gift from God, we need to do everything in our power to make sure that the chemicals that are being produced benefit humans, and the environment.

Future generations should not have to live in a world that has been damaged, but instead continue working for the changes society has been moving towards.

green chemistry on campus?!

Dr. Fennie, Ph.D., an associate professor here at the University of Scranton, briefly explains one of the ways green chemistry is used in synthetic research, as well as how it is taught within lectures and labs.


As members of the University of Scranton community, we are surrounded by countless opportunities. It is our job to use those opportunities to our advantage. Taking not only the Jesuit Values that are taught to us but as well as the Catholic Social Teachings and applying them in our everyday lives. To make a stronger, more sustainable environment for future generations to continue to flourish and continue improving the changes that are occurring today. When I am able to begin working as a forensic chemist, I am going to do my best to apply all that has been taught to me to achieve success within my field of work.


Luke 12:48

Created By
Heather Sanwald

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