Prologue

It is late September 2008 and I'm standing in the lobby of a Manila hotel where I'm attending a meeting about occupational health, safety, and environmental issues for workers throughout Asia. On a television screen nearby, polar bears are diving off a small ice floe. Later in the day, I visit the National Museum of the Philippines where we tour an exhibit of prize winners in a 2007 Filipino art competition. One of the paintings shows a woman clad in a dress constructed of images of cars and smokestacks. She has her hands over her eyes in a gesture of despair and is up to her hips in water. In this tropical island nation, merely 15 degrees north of the equator, where many people live on the water's edge, disappearing polar bear habitat—a sign of global warming and harbinger of rising sea levels—has local relevance. Over the next several days I meet people who work in factories that make clothing, electronics, machinery, and other products. When asked to name their top concerns about their working conditions, leading the list are the impacts of chemicals to reproductive health and the health of future generations. When asked what they would do to improve workplace safety, all say, "Remove the chemical hazard. Substitute something safer."

This is, in essence, the story this book explores. Over the past century our reliance on petroleum and coal has made available a vast quantity of hydrocarbons. These byproducts of fuel refining have become the foundation for the overwhelming majority of our synthetic materials—manufactured substances that go into everything from computers to cosmetics. We've managed to create tens of thousands of such new materials— substances that exist nowhere in nature—and these materials now permeate every aspect of our lives. They have made possible the creation of countless useful and often ingenious products: the lightweight, shatterproof, flame-resistant plastics used in electronics, aircraft, sports gear, and motor vehicles; waterproof coatings for textiles; flexible plastics that go into medical tubing and children's toys; nonstick surfaces for food packaging; thin films that enable microchip etching; and polymers delicate enough to coat an eyelash, to name but a few. It's hard to imagine life without them. These materials were designed to make life easier, more efficient, more convenient and, in many cases, safer. And many do.

But many of these substances also behave in ways that make them hazardous to human health and the environment. A number of these synthetic chemicals, scientists are discovering, are capable of interfering with the biological mechanisms that determine the health of any living organism. These materials, it turns out, have been changing the world's chemistry, in some instances altering the most fundamental building blocks of life on Earth. As a result, the entire chemistry of the planet—from the cellular level to entire ecosystems—is now different than at any other time in history.

This story is a sobering one. Yet what I learned while working on this book—and even more, the people I met—inspire me to think that the problems created by our past century's choice of materials are not insoluble. As with climate change, it's not possible to turn back the clock and erase all of the damage caused. However, if we build on the efforts now underway to create alternative materials that are safe for human health and the environment, and if we can prevent further pollution by existing harmful substances, great improvement and much recovery are possible. Where toxic contaminants have been taken out of use—through volun tary efforts or more often when regulations are established and enforced—affected populations and individuals, if sufficiently healthy and resilient, can and often do recover. But we have to act swiftly. As Paul Anastas, director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale University and a founder of the green chemistry movement has said succinctly, "We don't have a decade to blow."1

Since the 1950s, if not earlier, scientists have been aware of the acute adverse incidental impacts of numerous petroleum-based synthetic pesticides and industrial chemicals—immediate severe reactions in some cases (to the respiratory or nervous system, for example), severe disorders such as cancer or birth defects in others. In the past several decades, however, our knowledge of how these substances make their way into the environment and our bodies, and how these widely used synthetic chemicals can affect healthy living cells, has grown remarkably. We now know that such chemicals are migrating not only from industrial and waste sites but also from finished products designed for everyday use, products that range from furniture and textiles to electronics, toys, and personal care products. Many of these substances are mobile, made up of molecules that literally become detached from finished products and move into adjacent air, water, soil, or onto other nearby surfaces. Many also have chemical structures and elements that resist environmental degradation, enabling some to persist for years and even decades. Many are traveling the global environment with air and ocean currents. Many are also present in indoor air and household dust. And many are now being found literally everywhere on Earth—often far, even continents away, from where they were made, used, or disposed of—and in virtually everyone who's been tested.

In addition to their sometimes acute adverse health impacts, many of these synthetic chemicals interact—often at very low levels of expo-sure—with vital biological mechanisms in ways that can result in health problems that may not become apparent until years or even generations later. Among these effects are reproductive, metabolic, immune system, and neurological disorders—effects that can lead to such chronic conditions as diabetes, obesity, and learning difficulties. Many of these chemicals have been identified as endocrine disruptors for their ability to interfere with the workings of the hormones that regulate and maintain a number of the body's reproductive, metabolic, and other vital systems. Overall, these compounds are so pervasive that nearly all babies in the United States are now born with synthetic chemicals already in their bloodstreams. ^ ^ ^

A few years ago, research into local water quality issues where I live in Portland, Oregon, led me to investigate the environmental and health impacts of the high-technology industry, an investigation that led to publication of High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health. What I learned fascinated me and prompted wider questions about what scientists are learning about the behavior of many commonly used synthetic chemicals, particularly those that are being released by finished consumer products and making their way into the environment, our food, and our bodies. Why, I wondered, are flame retardants and chemicals used to make nonstick and water-resistant surfaces turning up in seals, sea turtles, and salmon as well as in ordinary supermarket foods including cheese, chicken, eggs, and microwave popcorn? I wanted to know why 95 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control had chemicals used to make common plastics and cosmetics in their blood. Why virtually all the nursing mothers tested in the United States were passing these substances on to their babies. Why people who do not live near or work in industrial plants are testing positive for multiple synthetic chemicals, some of which have been off the market for more than thirty years. And why we couldn't design useful synthetic materials without properties that disrupt fundamental biological mechanisms and cause problems that persist, literally, for generations.

There are far more of these synthetic chemicals than could ever be described in a single book. I've chosen to focus on a number of these that are found in widely used materials, that were introduced for commercial use with the assumption that they were biologically inert, and that scientists now believe can cause serious adverse health and environmental effects. While some of these chemicals have been in use for many years, their environmental and health hazards—particularly their ability to disrupt endocrine hormone functions and other vital biological and genetic mechanisms—have only recently been recognized. Many of these chemicals are found in a vast number of globally distributed products, many of them in everyday use. This has resulted in what are effectively millions of point sources of pollution that are both widely dispersed and in close proximity to people. Altogether, this presents a very different prospect for controlling these hazards than does curbing releases from large stationary sources like factories or waste sites. Although we are also now all exposed to multiple chemicals, scientists have just begun to study the effects of these combined exposures. And although conditions on the factory floor and in farm fields have improved considerably in recent decades, workers worldwide continue to be exposed to hazardous chemicals on the job.

Use of many of the older generation of long-lasting synthetic chemicals Rachel Carson wrote about in Silent Spring has been restricted or banned in many places, but these pesticides, along with industrial fluids like PCBs, are actually still with us, as are many other industrial chemicals that have entered the environment over the past four decades or more. These substances are not biodegradable by ordinary processes, and some even resist breakdown through current wastewater treatment, and thus persist in groundwater, oceans, lakes, rivers, soil, ice, and snow. Many of these persistent pollutants, both the older and the more recently recognized contaminants, also have a chemistry that enables them to accumulate in fat cells and fat tissue, and thus—as contaminated plants and animals are eaten—to climb the food web. In some locations, warming temperatures are now accelerating the release of contaminants held in place by snowfields, sea ice, permafrost, and frozen soil and as a result are affecting animals—and people—already stressed by climate change.

Historically, regulations and safety standards aimed at protecting human and environmental health from chemical hazards have been designed to limit exposure to what's considered an acceptable level of risk— how much of a toxic substance one can be exposed to without it causing observable, measurable harm. In the early 1990s, a new approach to preventing chemical pollution began to be articulated by proponents of what's called "green chemistry," a subject that is central to the discussion in this book and a discipline that has the potential to transform the world of manufactured materials as well as how we consider a material's safety.

The fundamental tenet of green chemistry is that preventing a problem—eliminating hazards at the outset or the design stage—is superior to trying to contain or control it once the problem has occurred. Put simply, not sending noxious fumes out of a smokestack is preferable to trying to deal with that pollution once it's in the chimney, let alone drifting through the air. Similarly, if a detergent is formulated without persistent pollutants, we don't have to worry about what happens to the suds after they go down the drain. What successful green chemistry promises is the prevention of chemical pollution by designing materials that are inherently environmentally benign.

An elegantly simple approach, green chemistry actually represents a radical departure from how commercial synthetic chemistry has been practiced. It asks specific questions about synthetic compounds' environmental behavior and toxicity from the beginning of the design stage all the way through manufacture, use, and end-of-product-life—questions that typically have not been asked in detail until these materials are launched into commercial production. Answering these questions faithfully and accurately—and with the aim of continually improving product safety—is what gives green chemistry the potential to revolutionize our choice and use of manufactured materials. Green chemistry efforts are underway all around the world, and many successful products designed according to green chemistry principles are now in use. The science is still in its infancy, but the more we learn about the hazards of so many widely used synthetic chemicals, the more compelling green chemistry becomes. ^ ^ ^

Adding considerably to the promise of green chemistry are the energetic and dynamic scientists who are leaders in the field. Engaging and eager to share their work, they bring a style of storytelling and sense of social purpose to their science that has the potential, I think, to be as transformative as the new materials they're out to create. Among those I was lucky enough to meet and whose work is part of the story told here is John Warner, one of green chemistry's founders and whose own story in many ways mirrors that of the growing concern about existing toxics and the need to do something about them.

"My mission," says John Warner over coffee in the living room of his house in Lowell, Massachusetts, on a sunny spring morning, "is to convince the next generation that this is the most important thing they can do." It may be no exaggeration to say that the mission Warner is on could change the world. He wants to put the next generation of chemists and chemical engineers to work on behalf of green chemistry, creating new materials that meet high technical and performance standards and that are environmentally benign. Spending time with beakers, test tubes, and molecular equations—no matter how novel—may not sound revolutionary, but what Warner advocates could effect a radical transformation not only of nearly every manufactured product we now use, but also of how we determine the safety of those products. A transition to green chemistry would also go a long way toward ending the recurring cycle of persistent, pervasive, and toxic pollution unleashed over the past century.

Making this transition will require a new approach to the design of new materials and products. It will almost certainly bring about a shift away from reliance on petrochemicals as the base for so many of our current synthetic materials, a move that is already—however gradually— underway. It will also require a new approach to how we assess the efficacy of new materials and their environmental effects. As Warner and his colleague Paul Anastas express it in their landmark text Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, "Green chemistry involves the design and redesign of chemical syntheses and chemical products to prevent pollution and thereby solve environmental problems."2

Warner himself is a compact, animated, and energetic man in his forties. Apart from sartorial improvements, his appearance hasn't changed all that much since the 1980s college photos he's happy to share as he talks about how he became a chemist. He speaks with an infectious enthusiasm I had not associated with chemistry before I began work on this book. "I'm a synthetic organic chemist. I make molecules," says Warner with a touch of disarming self-deprecation. Discussions of lab benches and regulatory policies may limit the glamour factor, but Warner is something of a rock star in the world of green chemistry.

"Why do we have red dye that causes cancer, plasticizers that cause birth defects?" Warner asks rhetorically. "We're lucky if 10 percent of the stuff we use is benign," he tells me. "Sixty-five percent of what we have now, we don't know how to make safely."

What distinguishes green chemistry—as defined by Warner and Anastas—from chemistry as historically practiced is that green chemistry is intended to be "benign by design." Instead of dealing with the byproducts, waste products, and environmental and health impacts of a newly synthesized material after it's been made, green chemistry asks synthetic chemists, materials designers, and engineers to follow "a set of principles that reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture," and use of chemical products—all problems that, historically, we've dealt with after the fact, most often after the substance is already in high-volume commercial production.3

Opting for less waste, fewer—or no—hazardous materials, greater materials and energy efficiency, and nontoxic end products sounds like a no-brainer. One would be hard-pressed to find disagreement with these goals. Considerably more contentious and difficult is refashioning our historical approach to chemical hazard and risk.

Read the history of any debate over the toxicity of a substance used in commercial products and you'll quickly see that the discussion focuses on "how toxic" a substance is and how much of the material in question one can be exposed to without harm. As Warner and Anastas note, the debate over how these environmental hazards should be gauged and how uncertainties about potential harm should be resolved has been ongoing for at least a generation and will likely continue for at least another. Given this situation, the scientific community has a choice, in their view: It can either allow itself to be paralyzed by uncertainty and "not attempt to address the concerns for human health and the environment" or it can accept the reality of these impacts and begin to reduce and eliminate them by adopting what I will describe as an ecological approach to materials design.4

"Green chemistry is not complicated although it is often elegant. It holds as its goal nothing less than perfection," write Anastas and Warner.5 "When we reflect upon the issues confronting society today, we have to reflect upon the materials that are in the environment. In the history of humanity what better time is there to be a chemist, designing new mate-rials?"6 Warner says emphatically. These are grand ambitions but their mission is also personal. Their advocacy for green chemistry grows out of personal concerns and reflects the background and experience of both Warner and Anastas in the world of academic and industrial chemistry— and for Paul Anastas, in government—as well as in their family roots in New England communities long known for their mills and factories.

The day I visit Warner is his last as director of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell's Center for Green Chemistry. Warner had been teaching at UMass-Lowell for more than ten years and is resigning as professor of plastics engineering to establish the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Lowell is a fitting place to see green chemistry in historical perspective. The city was long at the industrial heart of New England, a community that for more than 200 years has been home at one time or another to textile mills, tanneries, shoe factories, electronics, high technology and, yes, chemical manufacturing. This is a region long familiar with industrial and chemical pollution. The Warner Babcock Institute has its offices in Woburn, the town not far from Boston where, for years, the W. R. Grace Company had dumped industrial chemicals that were eventually linked to a cluster of local childhood leukemia cases, some fatal. The story and subsequent lawsuit against the company were made famous by Jonathan Harr's 1995 book, A Civil Action. Reducing chemical exposure on the job and in the community is very much a backyard issue here.

The predicament of pervasive synthetic chemical pollution has come about, Warner argues, in part because getting a PhD in chemistry in the United States today does not require a class in toxicology or environmental chemistry. "How can we ask people to go to work in industry and make safe products if they don't know how," asks Warner. As synthetic chemists—scientists who create new materials in the lab—"we don't even have a language to talk about safe materials."

Warner grew up not far from here, in Quincy, Massachusetts, just south of Boston—a city known for being home to John Adams and for its shipyards and granite quarries. "My mother had ten brothers and sisters, and I have thirty-five first cousins, and I grew up with them all nearby," Warner tells me, his voice rich with the round open vowels characteristic of the area. He is part of the first generation in his family to go to college and worked his way through school. Warner began his academic career not in science but as a music major and as a member of a band he and his buddies called the Elements. But as Warner tells me, his life changed direction after his close friend and bandmate, James O'Neil, died of leukemia in 1981. "It wasn't the same after that," Warner says of the band, and he switched his major to chemistry.

Warner recalls overhearing one of his professors at the University of Massachusetts talking about chemical research. "I was intrigued," says Warner, who turned out to be exceptionally talented as a synthetic chemist. "I think there's an innate instinct to create. Whether it's composing a piece of music or designing a molecule—they're the same thing neurologically. I can be a creative person and do science."

"I've synthesized over a hundred molecules that never existed before," Warner tells me. By the time he finished graduate school at Princeton in 1988, with a PhD in organic chemistry, Warner had published seventeen scientific papers—many on compounds related to pharmaceuticals, particularly anticancer drugs—a volume of research publication he immodestly but matter-of-factly says is "perhaps unprecedented."

One day Warner got a call from Polaroid offering him a job in their exploratory research division. So he went to work synthesizing new materials for the company, inventing compounds for photographic and film processes. Describing his industrial chemistry work in an article for the Royal Chemistry Society, Warner wrote: "I synthesized more and more new compounds. I put methyl groups and ethyl groups in places where they had never been. This was my pathway to success."7 There was even a se ries of compounds he invented that, in his honor, became known as "Warner complexes."

Warner had married in graduate school and while working at Polaroid had three children. His youngest and second son, John—born in 1991—was born with a serious birth defect. It was a liver disease, Warner tells me, caused by the absence of a working billiary system (which creates the secretions necessary for digestion). Despite intensive medical care, surgery, and a liver transplant, John died in 1993 at age two. "You can't imagine what it was like," says Warner. "Laying awake at night, I started wondering if there was something I worked with, some chemical that could possibly have caused this birth defect," Warner recalls. He knows it's unlikely that this was the case, but contemplating this possibility made him acutely aware of how little attention he and his colleagues devoted to the toxicity or ecological impacts of the materials they were creating.

"I never had a class in toxicology or environmental hazards," Warner tells me and shows me a slide from a lecture he gives that reads from top to bottom in increasingly large type: "I have synthesized over 2,500 compounds! I have never been taught what makes a chemical toxic! I have no idea what makes a chemical an environmental hazard! I have synthesized over 2,500 compounds! I have no idea what makes a chemical toxic!" "We've been monkeys typing Shakespeare," he adds.

"The chemical synthesis toolbox is really full, and 90 percent of what's in that toolbox is really nasty stuff." It's a coincidence and reality of history, Warner tells me, but the petroleum industry has been the primary creator of materials for our society. "Most of our materials' feedstock is petroleum. As petroleum is running out, things will have to change." But, he says, it's an oversimplification to say that using naturally occurring, nonpetroleum materials will automatically be safe.

Industrial chemistry has historically relied on the criteria of performance and cost. But safety, Warner adds, has not been an equal part of the equation. Green chemistry puts safety as well as material and energy efficiency on a par with performance and cost. This sounds like common sense, but our economic system's overwhelming focus on performance—

combined with the past century's reliance on what have been inexpensive petroleum-based feedstocks (or base materials)—have created a vast number of high-performing but environmentally inefficient and detrimental materials.

What we need to do, says Warner, is link the design and function of new materials and new molecular synthesis with an assessment of their hazard and risk. "Historically, we've mitigated risk," explains Warner, "and we've done this by trying to limit exposure." If we eliminate hazard in the first place, the issue of quibbling over exposure limits—where all of our chemical pollutant regulatory energy has been focused—goes away. If you haven't created and put materials with inherent hazards into production and commercial uses, you do not have to decide, for example, if it's safe to expose high school but not elementary and middle school students to lead dust emanating from artificial turf, or wonder why New York allows its residents to be exposed to higher levels of a potentially carcinogenic indoor air contaminant than does California.

"We've taken it as a fait accompli that chemistry must be dangerous. But the cost of using hazardous materials is exponentially more costly," says Warner. "There is no reason that a molecule must be toxic in order to perform a particular task." The cost of storing, transporting, treating, and disposing of hazardous materials, not to mention the expense of liability, and corporate responsibility for worker health and safety, are among the high costs associated with using hazardous materials. Corporations have seldom been required to take responsibility for hazardous materials they used or produced—apart from product failures—beyond some aspects of the manufacturing stage. The costs of environmental impacts were not considered an explicit cost of doing business; they were what are referred to technically as externalities. As that view has slowly begun to change, with pressure from consumers, unions, government regulators, and the courts, manufacturers are increasingly motivated to find ways to reduce these costs. Green chemists argue that one of the most effective ways to do so is by designing more environmentally benign and efficient products.

"What you do in industrial chemistry," says Warner, "is make and break chemical bonds. And in nature weak molecular bonds—bonds that come together and apart again, that assemble and reassemble, and are reversible—dominate." This is important, he tells me, because "if we can learn what molecules 'want' to do—if we can learn what they do in nature—we should be able to make better, less toxic products." If we can do that, we won't be fighting nature or introducing ultimately unwanted, often hazardous, and inefficient elements into the synthetic process. ^ ^ ^

It was on a trip to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s to try and secure Environmental Protection Agency approval for some new materials he'd synthesized at Polaroid that Warner found himself in a conversation with Paul Anastas at the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. While working in the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, Anastas had launched a program that provided grant money for research and development of new materials whose synthesis incorporated pollution prevention.8

Warner and Anastas quickly discovered they had much in common. Both were from the Boston area, both had studied chemistry as undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts, and during college Warner had played in a band with Anastas's brother Rick. Warner shows me a photo of their band, called A Touch of Brass, with the musicians sporting big collared black shirts and classic 1980s big hair. Fueled by shared background and interests, Anastas and Warner began talking about the need to create a science that would intentionally focus on waste and pollution prevention. Thus began their green chemistry collaboration.

With support from the Clinton administration's "Reinventing Government" initiative, Anastas persuaded the EPA to establish its Green Chemistry program. Anastas and Warner also helped launch what's called the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, a program that, since 1996, has recognized leading innovations in environmentally benign and pollution prevention chemistry. Many of these projects are strikingly collaborative, often involving university students and professors along with industry chemists and engineers. Every time a win-ner was announced at the awards ceremony I attended in 2007 an entire audience row of the

National Academy of Sciences auditorium stood up and walked onstage to claim the award to the clicking of family members' cameras. "The recipients of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award alone have eliminated enough hazardous substances to fill a train eight miles long," says Anastas.

These conversations with Anastas and others helped give Warner's career its present direction. "I had a great relationship with Polaroid," recalls Warner. "But after my son died, I left because I wanted to create the world's first green chemistry PhD program"—which he did, at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in 2002.

Although green chemistry ideas have been out in the world as articulated by Warner, Anastas, and their colleagues for some years now, they have made few substantial inroads in standard academic science curricula in the United States. This means that, with few exceptions, we're still educating chemists to work without an ecological context. "I teach 'Chemistry for Poets,'" Warner tells me. "Chemistry for nonscientists is all about the environment, but the American Chemical Society that accredits U.S. academic chemistry programs includes no environmental studies in its requirements." India, on the other hand, has mandated that all universities have a year of green chemistry.

"Currently the green [chemistry] toolbox is rather empty," Warner says, referring to a repertoire of chemical combinations that can be drawn upon to create environmentally benign materials. "We're starting to fill that toolbox," but there's an urgent need for new materials. "I feel we need a factor of ten more people to go into science and chemistry. We don't have the solutions and we need to have them," says Warner. But, he says, "we need product performance. People don't want lousy products, and products won't succeed just because they're environmentally acceptable. People who are not on the front lines don't understand how difficult innovation is."

The most basic principle of green chemistry—that of eliminating hazard at the design stage—is quite persuasive to chemical manufacturers and industries that use these materials, as it can keep them ahead of the regulatory curve. Doing so saves the very costly process of reformulating an existing product line to meet new regulations or, worse, the need to recall a product. Eliminating hazard at the design stage also eliminates the torturous and prolonged negotiations over acceptable risk and exposure limits on which our current chemical regulations are based. Hang around discussions and conferences about U.S. chemical regulation and you'll quickly be shown a hockey-stick-shaped graph plotting the proliferation of American environmental legislation over the past century. Its upward slope begins gradually in the 1870s and begins to rise notably in the mid-1950s, then accelerates steeply in the 1960s and 1970s, climbing steadily into the mid-1990s. While enormous progress in environmental protection has been achieved in some areas, simply increasing the number of such regulations at either the federal or state level has clearly not proven to be the most effective way of preventing the proliferation of persistent and pervasive pollutants.

"I think we're at a tipping point," Warner says of green chemistry. "Corporate America is being pressured to have sustainability goals. With industry doing this, academia will have to come along." "We can be apolitical about this," notes Warner. "A molecule is not a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Industry is slowly coming along. Is the movement real or on paper? We can't measure intent, we can only look at behavior," he remarks.

"An absence of the narrative of hazard leads to industrial hazard," Warner tells me, emphasizing how important environmental and social context are to scientific invention. "Science trains people to suppress the narrative," he says—to work as if considerations of culture and history and language are entirely separate from science. "Our society has messed up by creating a situation where it's art versus science. But if we are part of the narrative, who would want to make a hazardous material? We need to bring the narrative back to science."

And ultimately? "We need to put the concept of 'green' chemistry out of business," Warner tells me. "It should just be chemistry. Green chemistry is just intelligent product design."

Work on this book has made me aware of our material surroundings in a whole new way. Tracking molecules, unraveling the mysteries of their affinities and dynamics, and how they behave under different environmental conditions seems to me almost a form of anthropology or archaeology, so complex, interwoven, interdependent, and ever-evolving are their relationships. While often painstaking, this work is tremendously exciting. Identifying chemicals in a cloud plume, in a chunk of sea ice, vial of water, soil sample, slice of fish, or scoop of household dust yields clues to understanding both the health of the planet and each of us as individuals.

Scientists are professionally cautious and generally shy away from sweeping, dramatic statements. So I was surprised by the frankness and bold pronouncements so many are now making about the state of the world. This speaks, I think, to the urgency of redesigning our material future. We spent the twentieth century building economies and societies based around the power of petroleum and fossil fuels. The benefits have been enormous. Better living has been achieved through chemistry but it's now apparent that we need to do even better. As I'm writing this, the world is in economic turmoil and thinking about safer, cleaner materials may seem like a luxury. But based on what I've learned in the course of researching this book, these are changes we can not afford to do without.

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