The Scope Of Chemistry Of The Environment

Almost everything that happens in the world around us could come under the general heading "chemistry of the environment." Chemical reactions of all kinds occur continuously in the atmosphere, in oceans, lakes, and rivers, in all living things, and even underneath the earth's crust. These reactions take place quite independently of human activities. The latter serve to complicate an already complex subject.

To understand environmental problems, we must have knowledge not only of what materials are being deliberately or inadvertently released into the environment, but also of the processes they then undergo. More than this, we need to understand the general principles underlying these processes so that reasonable predictions can be made about the effects to be expected from new but related substances. We must also understand the principles that underlie natural environmental processes to anticipate human interferences. This chemistry-oriented book emphasizes the chemical principles underlying environmental processes and the chemistry of the anthropogenic components—the materials and changes that humans have introduced. But to put these into context, some topics that are rather distant from reactions and equations need to be discussed—as has been done in this chapter. In addition, knowledge in biological, meteorological, oceanographic, and other fields is equally important to the overall understanding of the environment. Indeed, although it is convenient to segment topics for study purposes, Barry Commoner's first law of the environment should always be kept in mind: "Everything is related to everything else.''

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