Environmental chemistry
Environmental chemistry is the scientific study
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 of the chemical and biochemical phenomena that occur in natural places. It should not be confused with green chemistry
Green chemistry
Green chemistry, also called sustainable chemistry, is a philosophy of chemical research and engineering that encourages the design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances...

, which seeks to reduce potential pollution at its source. It can be defined as the study of the sources, reactions, transport, effects, and fates of chemical species in the air
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

, and water environments; and the effect of human activity on these. Environmental chemistry is an interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic fields into one single discipline. An interdisciplinary field crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged....

 science that includes atmospheric
Atmospheric chemistry
Atmospheric chemistry is a branch of atmospheric science in which the chemistry of the Earth's atmosphere and that of other planets is studied. It is a multidisciplinary field of research and draws on environmental chemistry, physics, meteorology, computer modeling, oceanography, geology and...

, aquatic and soil chemistry
Soil chemistry
Soil chemistry is the study of the chemical characteristics of soil. Soil chemistry is affected by mineral composition, organic matter and environmental factors.-History:...

, as well as heavily relying on analytical chemistry
Analytical chemistry
Analytical chemistry is the study of the separation, identification, and quantification of the chemical components of natural and artificial materials. Qualitative analysis gives an indication of the identity of the chemical species in the sample and quantitative analysis determines the amount of...

 and being related to environmental
Environmental science
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences, to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems...

 and other areas of science.

Environmental chemistry involves first understanding how the uncontaminated environment works, which chemicals in what concentrations are present naturally, and with what effects. Without this it would be impossible to accurately study the effects humans have on the environment
Natural environment
The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It is an environment that encompasses the interaction of all living species....

 through the release of chemicals.

Environmental chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

s draw on a range of concepts from chemistry and various environmental sciences to assist in their study of what is happening to a chemical species in the environment
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

. Important general concepts from chemistry include understanding chemical reaction
Chemical reaction
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...

s and equations
Chemical equation
A chemical equation is the symbolic representation of a chemical reaction where the reactant entities are given on the left hand side and the product entities on the right hand side. The coefficients next to the symbols and formulae of entities are the absolute values of the stoichiometric numbers...

, solution
In chemistry, a solution is a homogeneous mixture composed of only one phase. In such a mixture, a solute is dissolved in another substance, known as a solvent. The solvent does the dissolving.- Types of solutions :...

s, units
Units of measurement
A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude of a physical quantity, defined and adopted by convention and/or by law, that is used as a standard for measurement of the same physical quantity. Any other value of the physical quantity can be expressed as a simple multiple of the unit of...

, sampling
Sampling (statistics)
In statistics and survey methodology, sampling is concerned with the selection of a subset of individuals from within a population to estimate characteristics of the whole population....

, and analytical techniques
Analytical chemistry
Analytical chemistry is the study of the separation, identification, and quantification of the chemical components of natural and artificial materials. Qualitative analysis gives an indication of the identity of the chemical species in the sample and quantitative analysis determines the amount of...



A contaminant is a substance
Chemical substance
In chemistry, a chemical substance is a form of matter that has constant chemical composition and characteristic properties. It cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods, i.e. without breaking chemical bonds. They can be solids, liquids or gases.Chemical substances are...

 present in nature at a level higher than typical levels or that would not otherwise be there. This may be due to human activity. The term contaminant is often used interchangeably with pollutant
A pollutant is a waste material that pollutes air, water or soil, and is the cause of pollution.Three factors determine the severity of a pollutant: its chemical nature, its concentration and its persistence. Some pollutants are biodegradable and therefore will not persist in the environment in the...

, which is a substance that has a detrimental impact on the surrounding environment. Whilst a contaminant is sometimes defined as a substance present in the environment as a result of human activity, but without harmful effects, it is sometimes the case that toxic or harmful effects from contamination only become apparent at a later date.

The "medium" (e.g. soil) or organism (e.g. fish) affected by the pollutant or contaminant is called a receptor, whilst a sink is a chemical medium or species that retains and interacts with the pollutant.

Environmental indicators

Chemical measures of water quality
Water quality
Water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. It is a measure of the condition of water relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which...

 include dissolved oxygen (DO)
Oxygen saturation
Oxygen saturation or dissolved oxygen is a relative measure of the amount of oxygen that is dissolved or carried in a given medium. It can be measured with a dissolved oxygen probe such as an oxygen sensor or an optode in liquid media, usually water.It has particular significance in medicine and...

, chemical oxygen demand (COD)
Chemical oxygen demand
In environmental chemistry, the chemical oxygen demand test is commonly used to indirectly measure the amount of organic compounds in water. Most applications of COD determine the amount of organic pollutants found in surface water or wastewater, making COD a useful measure of water quality...

, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)
Biochemical oxygen demand
Biochemical oxygen demand or B.O.D. is the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic biological organisms in a body of water to break down organic material present in a given water sample at certain temperature over a specific time period. The term also refers to a chemical procedure for...

, total dissolved solids (TDS)
Total dissolved solids
Total Dissolved Solids is a measure of the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained in a liquid in: molecular, ionized or micro-granular suspended form. Generally the operational definition is that the solids must be small enough to survive filtration through a sieve...

, pH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...

, nutrients nitrates and phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

), heavy metals
Heavy metals
A heavy metal is a member of a loosely-defined subset of elements that exhibit metallic properties. It mainly includes the transition metals, some metalloids, lanthanides, and actinides. Many different definitions have been proposed—some based on density, some on atomic number or atomic weight,...

 (including copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, cadmium
Cadmium is a chemical element with the symbol Cd and atomic number 48. This soft, bluish-white metal is chemically similar to the two other stable metals in group 12, zinc and mercury. Similar to zinc, it prefers oxidation state +2 in most of its compounds and similar to mercury it shows a low...

, lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 and mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

), and pesticide
Pesticides are substances or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest.A pesticide may be a chemical unicycle, biological agent , antimicrobial, disinfectant or device used against any pest...



Environmental chemistry is used by the Environment Agency
Environment Agency
The Environment Agency is a British non-departmental public body of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and an Assembly Government Sponsored Body of the Welsh Assembly Government that serves England and Wales.-Purpose:...

 (in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

), the Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 (in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) the Association of Public Analyst
Public Analyst
Public Analysts are scientists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland whose principal task is to ensure the safety and correct description of food by testing for compliance with legislation. Most Public Analysts are also Agricultural Analysts who carry out similar work on animal...

s, and other environmental agencies and research bodies around the world to detect and identify the nature and source of pollutants. These can include:
  • Heavy metal
    Heavy metals
    A heavy metal is a member of a loosely-defined subset of elements that exhibit metallic properties. It mainly includes the transition metals, some metalloids, lanthanides, and actinides. Many different definitions have been proposed—some based on density, some on atomic number or atomic weight,...

     contamination of land by industry. These can then be transported into water bodies and be taken up by living organisms.
  • Nutrients leaching from agricultural
    Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

     land into water courses, which can lead to algal bloom
    Algal bloom
    An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in an aquatic system. Algal blooms may occur in freshwater as well as marine environments. Typically, only one or a small number of phytoplankton species are involved, and some blooms may be recognized by discoloration...

    s and eutrophication
    Eutrophication or more precisely hypertrophication, is the movement of a body of water′s trophic status in the direction of increasing plant biomass, by the addition of artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates, through fertilizers or sewage, to an aquatic system...

  • Urban runoff
    Urban runoff
    Urban runoff is surface runoff of rainwater created by urbanization. This runoff is a major source of water pollution in many parts of the United States and other urban communities worldwide.-Overview:...

     of pollutants washing off impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, and roof
    A roof is the covering on the uppermost part of a building. A roof protects the building and its contents from the effects of weather. Structures that require roofs range from a letter box to a cathedral or stadium, dwellings being the most numerous....

    tops) during rain storms. Typical pollutants include gasoline
    Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

    , motor oil
    Motor oil
    Motor oil or engine oil is an oil used for lubrication of various internal combustion engines. The main function is to lubricate moving parts; it also cleans, inhibits corrosion, improves sealing, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.Motor oils are derived from...

     and other hydrocarbon
    In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons from which one hydrogen atom has been removed are functional groups, called hydrocarbyls....

     compounds, metals, nutrients and sediment
    Sediment is naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of fluids such as wind, water, or ice, and/or by the force of gravity acting on the particle itself....

  • Organometallic compounds.


Quantitative property
A quantitative property is one that exists in a range of magnitudes, and can therefore be measured with a number. Measurements of any particular quantitative property are expressed as a specific quantity, referred to as a unit, multiplied by a number. Examples of physical quantities are distance,...

 chemical analysis
Analytical chemistry
Analytical chemistry is the study of the separation, identification, and quantification of the chemical components of natural and artificial materials. Qualitative analysis gives an indication of the identity of the chemical species in the sample and quantitative analysis determines the amount of...

 is a key part of environmental chemistry, since it provides the data that frame most environmental studies.

Common analytical techniques used for quantitative determinations in environmental chemistry include classical wet chemistry, such as gravimetric
Gravimetric analysis
Gravimetric analysis describes a set of methods in analytical chemistry for the quantitative determination of an analyte based on the mass of a solid...

, titrimetric
Titration, also known as titrimetry, is a common laboratory method of quantitative chemical analysis that is used to determine the unknown concentration of an identified analyte. Because volume measurements play a key role in titration, it is also known as volumetric analysis. A reagent, called the...

 and electrochemical
Electrochemistry is a branch of chemistry that studies chemical reactions which take place in a solution at the interface of an electron conductor and an ionic conductor , and which involve electron transfer between the electrode and the electrolyte or species in solution.If a chemical reaction is...

 methods. More sophisticated approaches are used in the determination of trace metals and organic compounds. Metals are commonly measured by atomic spectroscopy and mass spectrometry
Mass spectrometry
Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles.It is used for determining masses of particles, for determining the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, and for elucidating the chemical structures of molecules, such as peptides and...

: Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS) and Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission (ICP-AES) or Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometric (ICP-MS) techniques. Organic compounds are commonly measured also using mass spectrometric methods, such as Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry is a method that combines the features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample. Applications of GC-MS include drug detection, fire investigation, environmental analysis, explosives investigation,...

 (GC/MS) and Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry
Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry
Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry is an analytical chemistry technique that combines the physical separation capabilities of liquid chromatography with the mass analysis capabilities of mass spectrometry. LC-MS is a powerful technique used for many applications which has very high...

 (LC/MS). Non-MS methods using GCs and LCs having universal or specific detectors are still staples in the arsenal of available analytical tools.

Other parameters often measured in environmental chemistry are radiochemical
Radiochemistry is the chemistry of radioactive materials, where radioactive isotopes of elements are used to study the properties and chemical reactions of non-radioactive isotopes...

s. These are pollutants which emit radioactive materials, such as alpha and beta particles, posing danger to human health and the environment. Particle counters and Scintillation counters are most commonly used for these measurements. Bioassay
Bioassay , or biological standardization is a type of scientific experiment. Bioassays are typically conducted to measure the effects of a substance on a living organism and are essential in the development of new drugs and in monitoring environmental pollutants...

s and immunoassay
An immunoassay is a biochemical test that measures the presence or concentration of a substance in solutions that frequently contain a complex mixture of substances. Analytes in biological liquids such as serum or urine are frequently assayed using immunoassay methods...

s are utilized for toxicity evaluations of chemical effects on various organisms.

Published analytical methods

Peer review
Peer review is a process of self-regulation by a profession or a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards, improve performance and provide credibility...

 test methods have been published by government agencies
and private research organizations. Approved published methods must be used when testing to demonstrate compliance with regulatory
Regulation is administrative legislation that constitutes or constrains rights and allocates responsibilities. It can be distinguished from primary legislation on the one hand and judge-made law on the other...


See also

  • Chemists Celebrate Earth Day
    Chemists Celebrate Earth Day
    Earth Day was first officially recognized on April 22, 1970 as a way to demonstrate support for a healthy environment and to make the planet a better place, raise awareness about environmental issues, and remind people that we all need to contribute to a sustainable planet.The American Chemical...

  • Environmental monitoring‎
  • Freshwater environmental quality parameters‎
  • Green chemistry
    Green chemistry
    Green chemistry, also called sustainable chemistry, is a philosophy of chemical research and engineering that encourages the design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances...

  • Green Chemistry Journal
  • Journal of Environmental Monitoring
    Journal of Environmental Monitoring
    Journal of Environmental Monitoring is a peer-reviewed scientific journal publishing original research and review articles on any aspect of environmental science. JEM is published monthly by the Royal Society of Chemistry , the managing editor is Harp Minhas and the chairman of the editorial...

  • Important publications in Environmental chemistry
  • List of chemical analysis methods

Further reading

  • Stanley E Manahan. Environmental Chemistry. CRC Press. 2004. ISBN 1-56670-633-5.
  • Julian E Andrews, Peter Brimblecombe, Tim Jickells, Peter Liss, Brian Reid. An Introduction to Environmental Chemistry. Blackwell Publishing. 2004. ISBN 0-632-05905-2.
  • Rene P Schwarzenbach, Philip M Gschwend, Dieter M Imboden. Environmental Organic Chemistry, Second edition. Wiley-Interscience, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2003. ISBN 0-471-35750-2.

  • NCERT XI text book.[ unit 14]

External links

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