Protecting the Environment
Wherever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
Energy requirements should be recognised for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimised. Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.

Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and break down into innocuous degradation products.

(Green Chemistry Principles, Dr. Paul Anastas et al)
The chemical industry has done much to reduce the impact that production waste has on the environment. See the minimising waste section for more information on this.

No matter how "clean" the production process, however, there remains the question of what happens to a product when it is used in the way it is intended. Fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are, by their very nature, always released into the environment. Domestic cleaning products end up in the sewage system, and are discharged into rivers or the sea.

photo: crop spraying releases chemicals in the environment
Long Term Effects

The levels at which many chemicals are present in the environment may present no threat to human, animal or plant life. Over a longer period, however, there may be subtle changes that have an indirect affect.

For example, the chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs) used in aerosols and refrigerators presented little or no risk to human health (they are in fact not toxic to humans). It is now generally accepted, though, that the accumulation of these materials in the upper atmosphere has resulted in ozone depletion, allowing a higher level of harmful ultraviolet radiation to reach the planet surface. Their use is therefore being phased out.

chemical equation: ozone depletion

photo: the atmosphere is affected by chemicals

Similar situations apply to "greenhouse" gases like carbon dioxide. This is not present at anywhere near toxic levels, but increases may be sufficient to be affecting global temperatures.

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