written by: Om Thoke
• edited by: SForsyth
• updated: 1/4/2012
Environmental Chemistry is a branch of science that deals with the transport, effects, origins, fates and reactions of the chemical species present in air, water, living and terrestrial environments. This article covers the basics and definitions of environmental chemistry.
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Environmental Chemistry is closely related with many other branches of chemistry such as analytical, photochemistry, physical, biological and geochemistry. There are many other fields connected with the environmental chemistry such as life sciences, physics, medical sciences, agricultural sciences, sanitary engineering and public health.
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What Is Environmental Chemistry?
Environmental chemistry is also defined as the study of biochemical and chemical phenomena that occurs in the natural environment. Sometimes people confuse environmental chemistry with green chemistry; so let’s clear this out right away – both are not one and the same.
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It is also an interdisciplinary science; it includes aquatic, soil and atmospheric chemistry.
Environmental chemistry involves understanding the chemicals present in nature, the way in which contamination occurs, and discovering the proportions in which the natural substances occur, along with some of the apparently unknown effects in nature.
It is impossible to carry out highly accurate study on the environment without the help of environmental chemistry. Many environmental chemists have drawn concepts from the chemical science and environmental sciences for assisting in thorough study, and research of nature.
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Understanding The Basic Terms: Contaminants and Pollutants
Contaminant and Pollutant: A contaminant is a kind of material present in nature with a higher concentration level, which is considered much greater than the typical levels.
This may be due to non eco-friendly activities of human beings. The term contaminant is frequently used as a substitute to 'pollutant'.
In literal terms, a pollutant is a material having a negative impact or a detrimental effect on surrounding environment.
Any substance that is present in the environment, and is released without any harmful effects does not fall under the category of pollutants or contaminants.
But, when the substance causes harmful or toxic effects, it is treated as a contaminant.
Receptor: The organism or the channel that is affected by the contaminant or the pollutant is known as a receptor.
Sink: A sink is a chemical channel that interacts with the pollutant, and retains its harmful nature.
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Applications of Environmental Chemistry
Many environmental agencies use environmental chemistry. The agencies such as Environment agency, Association of public analysts, environmental protection agency and any other research bodies or the environmental agencies use environmental chemistry all over the world for identifying and detecting the source and nature of the pollutants.
Contamination of heavy metal by the industries constitutes a major portion of environmental pollution. And, constant efforts are being made to bring down the level of contamination caused by heavy metals.
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Quantitative Chemical Analysis
One of the key elements of environmental chemistry is the quantitative chemical analysis. It gives the data that forms the basis of numerous studies related to environment.
Chemical measures of the quality of water include dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, pH level, dissolved solids, heavy metals that includes mercury, cadmium, and pesticides!
Nutrients that are percolating from the lands of agriculture into the water bodies lead to the breeding of algae and also eutrophication. The urban pollutants get washed away from impervious surfaces like the parking lots, rooftops and roads during rainy storms.
The typical pollutants include motor oil, hydrocarbon compounds, nutrients, metals, gasoline and sediments. Common analytical techniques that are used in environmental chemistry’s quantitative determinations include the classical wet chemistry such as the methods like titrimetric estimation, electrochemical, and gravimetric analysis.