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Q&A with EPA's Dr. John Leazer

Director of EPA's Sustainable Technology Division answers questions about green chemistry.

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Science Matters recently sat down with EPA’s Dr. John Leazer—Director of the Office of Research and Development’s Sustainable Technology Divisionto ask about some of the Agency’s green chemistry research and engineering efforts.

SCIENCE MATTERS:  Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to EPA to help lead the Agency’s green chemistry and engineering efforts?

  Sure. My name is John Leazer, and I am the Director of the Sustainable Technology Division of EPA. I’ve been trained as a chemist — a synthetic-organic chemist. During my 22 years in the pharmaceutical industry I became very interested in green chemistry, which is one of the reasons that I decided to move to EPA.  The Sustainable Technology Division provides an opportunity for me to have a greater impact on green chemistry and engineering.

SCIENCE MATTERS: Why is EPA involved in green chemistry research?

DR. LEAZER:  Green chemistry is all about innovating — coming up with new ideas. We here at EPA are charged with protecting human health and the environment. Green chemistry serves both of those purposes. We look for more sustainable ways of doing things. We look for renewable resources to use in our processes, and we also look for opportunities to convert waste by-products into value-added products.

With green chemistry, you design your molecule, and your process, with an eye towards sustainability. You evaluate the entire process before you even go to the lab. You must think about energy, you must think about raw materials. Are you using renewable resources, or are you depleting your resources?  The list goes on and on.  The point here is that, green chemistry allows us to reap the full environmental, societal, and economic impacts of the deliverable over its entire life due to the effort put in before we even go to the laboratory.  We do our best to design sustainability into both the product and the process upfront. 

SCIENCE MATTERS:  How does EPA’s green chemistry research fit into the Agency’s goal to advance sustainability?

DR. LEAZER:  What we’re trying to do here at EPA is effect a paradigm shift in the way that scientists perform their chemistry and in the way that the public perceives the synthesis of materials, so it fits in quite well. Now, one thing that we do here that many other laboratories do not is that we consider the entire life cycle perspective of the material we’re dealing with. So, it’s not simply that you make a product for that product’s sake. You must take into account everything associated with making that product, and it has to be done in a sustainable manner.

We take into account the amount of energy that’s used, and we take into account resource depletion, so it’s the entire life cycle perspective. What do we use? Where do we get it from? How much of it do we use? How is that product used? And, finally, how is that product either recycled or destroyed at the end of its life?

EPA's Dr. John Leazer

EPA's Dr. John Leazer

SCIENCE MATTERS:  What role can EPA play in the green chemistry revolution?

DR. LEAZER:  EPA must play a very fundamental role in the green chemistry movement. Green chemistry started right here in EPA with Dr. Paul Anastas, our Assistant Administrator, so we play a very fundamental role. The EPA must drive the national agenda for green chemistry, and I also believe that EPA should drive the global agenda for green chemistry.

SCIENCE MATTERS:  How does EPA form and work with partners from industry and other groups interested in green chemistry?

DR. LEAZER:  Partnerships play a fundamental role in how we do business at EPA. We have what we call Cooperative Research and Development Agreements which have led EPA to be recognized as a national leader in green chemistry. Companies and corporations come to us to help them solve their green chemistry problems. This has resulted in products that are on the market that EPA has had some hand in developing. Our scientists are becoming better known around the country, around the world, as leaders in green chemistry.

We have helped develop catalysts and materials with outside companies that have resulted in new methodologies and new technologies to remove contaminants from water. We’ve helped develop new technologies and techniques to remove contaminants from soil, as well. All of these technologies have resulted in job creation.  Collaborations with outside companies play a very strong role in what we do at EPA.

SCIENCE MATTERS:  It sounds like EPA is doing a lot to advance green chemistry and engineering. Thank you for making the time today.

DR. LEAZER:  EPA is doing a lot to promote green chemistry; and we will continue to innovate in this arena.  Thank you.

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