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Proponents of a more environmentally friendly chemical industry last week argued that the U.S. needs to improve its training of chemists.

Chemistry World reports that pioneers in "green" chemistry told a Capitol Hill audience that chemistry students at American universities learn how to synthesize molecules — but not how to evaluate their impact on the environment or human health.

"This is the weird aberration of the way the science of chemistry has evolved: that someone else’s problem is to worry about the toxicity and environmental impact," John Warner, president of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Massachusetts, said at the event organized by the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council.

David Constable, who leads the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute, added that chemistry education failed to keep pace with advancing science in recent decades and noted that research universities often actively oppose green chemistry as unnecessary.

Participants, meanwhile, also said that the green chemical industry as a whole remains promising.

Warner said that environmental compliance budgets often rival research and development budgets at chemical companies — and that reducing products' impact on the environment could reduce overall costs as a result.

In addition, BioAmber Chief Technology Officer Jim Millis said that many bio-based chemicals that are developed in the U.S. are scaled up overseas — including his own company, which will produce chemicals from sugar at a plant in Sarnia, Ontario.

Millis, however, said that U.S. incentive programs are starting to recognize the importance of green chemistry.

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