From Daily Planet:

The evening of his two-year-old son’s funeral, John Warner looked back on his prolific career as a chemist, and had an epiphany of sorts.

“I had probably synthesized more molecules than anyone my age on the planet. I was at the top of my game as a synthetic organic chemist. But I asked myself, what if something I worked with, something that I made, caused my son’s birth defect and ultimate death?”

He realized that despite being a successful chemist, he had no idea what made a chemical toxic. That started him on a journey to discover just what it takes to create safer chemicals.

Considered in the science world to be one of the founding fathers of green chemistry, Warner was the featured speaker Friday at the “Adding Value Through Green Chemistry” conference . . . .

The event was intended to bring together leaders from the academic, nonprofit, government and business communities in discussion about the benefits and opportunities of green chemistry, which Warner says aims to “reduce or eliminate hazardous substances at the design stage.”

In order to be considered green chemistry, a substance must be safer than existing alternatives, be cost-effective, and ultimately, it has to work.

“People are not going to buy a cleaner that doesn’t clean just because it happens to be environmentally benign,” Warner said.

A spike in environmental regulations over the past 30 years demonstrates a growing public awareness of the need for safe chemical production. But a fundamental gap exists between what the public desires, and what scientists are capable of achieving, explained Warner.

Many professional chemists don’t know what makes a chemical toxic. That’s because universities do not require chemistry majors to demonstrate knowledge of toxicity and environmental impact in order to graduate – that is, not yet.

“Communities and states that can figure this out and create a workforce capable of supplying this unmet need, this missing element, have an opportunity to change the game,” said Warner.