This year, the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry (ENVR) marks the 100th anniversary of its founding. The division traces its origin to the Division of Water, Sewage, and Sanitary Chemistry, which was founded in 1914. Its first chair was Edward Bartow, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University who was instrumental in its formation. Edward Bartow would go on to become a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during World War I, having been placed in charge of providing potable water to the American Expeditionary Forces. (Making his task more difficult, in Paris the water had to come from the then heavily polluted Seine River). Later, he would serve as director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) from 1923 to 1925 and as ACS president in 1936. To give some idea of what was on the frontier of water research in 1914, one of Edward Bartow's papers of that year, coauthored with Clarence Scholl, was titled "The comparative value of a calcium lime and a magnesium-calcium lime for water softening" (Ind. Eng. Chem. 1914, 6(3), 189-191).
As the 20th Century progressed, both chemical professionals and the public-at-large became more concerned about the wastes and emissions produced by the chemical industry. In 1959, the Division of Water, Sewage, and Sanitary Chemistry was changed to the Division of Water and Waste Chemistry to reflect this growing interest. The problem of air pollution and air quality was also a growing concern, hence a second name change in 1964 to the Division of Water, Air, and Waste Chemistry. (For reference: the Clean Air Act was passed in 1963, and the Clean Water Act in 1972). The Division of Environmental Chemistry got its current name in 1973. The division continues to be active: 6572 papers were presented at ACS national meetings between 2004 and 2013.
The ACS includes other governing bodies, in addition to ENVR, that are concerned with the environment. The Committee on Air Pollution was founded in 1952. It evolved into the Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI), which was established in 1968. In 1969, the CEI published the report “Cleaning our environment: the chemical basis for action,” an update of this report was published in 1977. Today, the CEI awards the ACS ChemLuminary Award for Outstanding Sustainability Activities and the ACS-CEI Award for Incorporating Sustainability into Chemistry Education.
This year, the ACS Fall National Meeting and Exposition had an environmental chemistry theme -Chemistry and Global Stewardship - and the Division of Environmental Chemistry sponsored or co-sponsored 47 symposia in the meeting’s technical program.
The accompanying chart displays trends in publication in environmental chemistry. It graphs the number of Chemical Abstracts bibliographic records assigned to section codes 59 (air pollution and industrial hygiene), 60 (waste treatment and disposal), and 61 (water), both in terms of absolute number (blue bars) and in terms of percentage of total Chemical Abstracts records for that publication year (red curve). One can see a trend of increasing percentages up to a peak at 1998, after which the percentages level off a bit. In terms of absolute numbers, publications in the field continue to increase: the drop-off for 2014 is due to the fact that the year is not over yet (the data are as of August 20, 2014). By either measure, environmental chemistry remains an active field.
We wish to thank Matt Garver (CAS), Jillian Goldfarb (ENVR), Rhonda Ross (CAS), and Roger Schenck (CAS) for their help in compiling data used in this article.
David Shobe, Assistant Editor, Chemical Information Bulletin