A Healthy Scientist Makes Greener Science

By Kiril Fedorov, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Do you remember the time you had spilled your reaction vessel on the floor, over distilled the solution, broke glassware, or had another accident in the laboratory?  Accidents happen to everyone so it is likely to happen to you once or twice in the laboratory. A problem emerges when these incidents become consistent, which is clearly not a green practice for scientists.

For example, let’s say you had a long week of reactions and you destroyed the whole product of your main reaction. This not only means you have destroyed your product, it also means you have wasted the following items: solvents, electrical energy, glassware (if broken or contaminated), single use items (pipette tips, napkins, scintillation vials etc.).

Kiril blog_picture

Comparison of materials required for a normal vs. tired student.

 

Although accidents are random, their frequency may not be. Do you remember why many of those mistakes happened?   There could be many reasons but there is one in particular I would like to highlight. It is your health. First of all people who are healthy are less prone to mistakes and as a result are more efficent.1,2,3 For example when nurses were tested on their work on long shifts, the majority of mistakes that happened were at the end of the shift when they were most tired. You are no different as a scientist, engineer, journalist, editor or any other student. Each morning there is a long line at Tim Hortons for coffee to keep those people who are drinking it alert. Also, many people grab fast food at lunch, eat too fast, and experience a really sleepy afternoon due to high fat load or sugar crash. This leaves people tired, less aware, and as a result prone to mistakes.

Several articles highlight how much loss to the economy is due to poor health. Also people with poor health have to take more medications and get more blood tests, which again is less green.

So what can you do?

The 7 rules of green laboratory:

  1. Be punctual

If you are in a rush anxiety rises, mineral levels drop 4-7 and mistake levels increase.

  1. Prioritize

When tasks are organized you are less likely to make a mistake and again lower anxiety due to less multitasking.

  1. Sleep at night

Night is for sleeping for people! Do not stay out late if your experimental work starts early the next day. Only stay awake if you really have to. If you are a night owl, then maybe your schedule is different, but remember if you are consistently tired or need coffee it is not very efficient.

  1. Eat healthy

No need to be a health lunatic but improving your diet always works to your advantage. Let’s face it: stomach aches, sugar withdrawal, headaches, heartburn or other problems keep you distracted from lab work.  You are significantly prone to mistakes.

  1. Exercise

Get off your seat from the lab every 40-50 minutes and stretch for 10 minutes. Go outside and breathe some fresh air while walking. It will get your blood pumping and get your brain working better. (You might invent a greener reaction)

  1. Follow safety instructions

Remember it is not just about an instructor or your supervisor who enforce safety rules, but yours and other people’s health. Take your safety seriously! Think of it this way: after all the years of training as a scientist (very costly on chemicals) suddenly your health and efficiency drops and you are about to discover something amazing.

  1. Have fun

Bored, angry or sad people tend to be more prone to mistakes. (Common sense). If you believe in Karma this is quite self-explanatory. But for those who don’t, think about the times something did not work and likely you would give up or break something. With a little happy thought you can think more clearly and everything gets solved better. Just try it, I am telling you it works.

 

Here is an example of a reaction and the cost of avoidable mistakes:

Synthesis of Moclobemide

 Compounds used Amount required (used by an alert student) Amount used  for a tired student

(estimates)

Amount used  for  a repeated experiment
4-(2aminoethyl)morpholine 0.5 ml 0.5-1 1 ml
4-chlorobenzoyl chloride 0.48 ml 0.48-1 1 ml
Triethyl amine 20 ml 20 -40 40 ml
10% aq ammonia 10 ml 10-20 20 ml
Dicloromehtane 2X10 ml (2-4)X10 4X10ml
Isopropanol ~20 ml 20-40ml 40 ml

 

Other compounds/items Amount estimates
Water (for glassware washing) 1-20 L
Paper towels 1-30
Electrical power 0.5hr X 4kw+ 0.5 1.5 KW= 2.75 – 5.50 KWh used
Syringe 1
Acetone 10-30 ml (washing NMR tubes)
Soap  
Magnesium sulfate A few grams

 

References:

1. Health and safety executive survey United Kingdom http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm

2. Tired Doctors More Prone to Errors
Tired Doctors More Prone to Errors

3. Patient care may be at risk from tired staff on long shifts. Nurs Manag (Harrow) 2015;22(5):6. https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies

4. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A, Singewald N. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology 2012; 62(1):304-312.

5. Uteva AG, Pimenov LT. Magnesium deficiency and anxiety-depressive syndrome in elderly patients with chronic heart failure. Adv. Gerontol. 2012; 25(3):427-432.

6. Grases G, Pérez-Castello JA, Sanchis P, Casero A, Perelló J, Isern B, et al. Anxiety and stress among science students. Study of calcium and magnesium alterations. Magnes. Res. 2006; 19(2):102-106.

7. Singewald N, Sinner C, Hetzenauer A, Sartori SB, Murck H. Magnesium-deficient diet alters depression- and anxiety-related behavior in mice – Influence of desipramine and Hypericum perforatum extract. Neuropharmacology 2004; 47(8):1189-1197.

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Pesticides Can Be Your Friends: Be Informed

By Kiril Fedorov, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Pesticide-free living: hopeful future or wrong approach?

Pesticide-free living: hopeful future or wrong approach?

At the end of May, the GCI held its 2nd annual workshop entitled “Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research”, and one topic that was discussed that really resonated with me is the use of different toxins in our environment. Lectures like “Molecular Structures and Toxicology: The Search for Green Poisons” by Professor Keith Solomon and “Environmental Fate , Persistence & Disposition: The Role of Chemical Architecture” by Professor Scott Mabury both mentioned the use of pesticides, and I thought writing about it for my contribution to the blog would be a great way to clear up some misconceptions around the topic.

We constantly hear in the news that pesticides are toxic and that they do a lot of harm to the environment.  You may have heard of or read the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson that exposed the negative effects of the widely-used pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), or new stories about the effect of chemicals on polar bears, and decided as a result to not use pesticides or to only buy organic food. But the story is not that simple in the real world. First, we must define what a pesticide actually is before judging right away that pesticides should not be used and that we should grow everything naturally.

In the dictionary, the definition of a pesticide is “a chemical preparation for destroying plant, fungal, or animal pests”.

Now ask yourself: what does the definition actually tell you about pesticides?

It states that a pesticide is a chemical, which is basically anything you can touch (not just the bubbly stuff chemists work with in laboratories like you see in the movies). This means that anything could be used as a pesticide, even the most harmless product, if it destroys the pests that harm or prevent plants from growing. Paracelsus famously stated that “the dose makes the poison,” but now we are also hearing reports of molecules, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) that act as endocrine disruptors and can cause adverse effects that are not linear with respect to the dose. Again, the picture is complicated.

So should we give up using pesticides altogether? Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to meet the world’s need for food without them. The best option would be to make pesticides as green and efficient as possible, so that they accomplish their task of destroying pests with a minimal effect on the environment as a whole. Some of the design criteria for green pesticides include: not oil-based, low persistence, non-toxic to humans or other non-target animals, etc.

You may think that in the past, everything was grown naturally and clean, but you are only partially right since nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. There are many naturally occurring compounds that are more poisonous than some of the pesticides we used today. For example, some molds can produce aflatoxin (which is carcinogenic) and can infect cereals, grain, and legumes. If the crops are not treated to destroy these types of molds, then the harvest could potentially be lost or the carcinogens could possibly end up in some of the food we eat.

Pesticides are not always the enemy, but they are also not perfect, so we must continuously try to improve them, using all of the tools the chemical industry has to do so. Pesticides can be your friend or your enemy, it’s your choice and your responsibility to be informed about the effects (good or bad) of the products you are using.