Environmental Chemistry

Course CodeBSC306
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn about environmental chemistry

Environmental chemistry has a direct impact on humans and other living organisms. Chemical compounds in air, water and soil can affect everything from how we process nutrients to the development of certain cancers and our reproductive capability.

We cannot escape chemistry in the environment. We can learn ways to improve health outcomes, agricultural productivity or reduce risk from the chemicals around us.

  • Environmental chemistry has relevance to everyone!
  • Are you a professional which requires your knowledge of environmental chemistry?
  • Do you want to reduce the toxic overload in the world around you

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Environmental Chemistry and Chemistry Concepts
    • Chemistry
    • Environmental chemistry through time
    • Global warming, greenhouse gases and carbon sequestering
    • Basic chemistry concepts
    • Charges on Atoms and Bonds
    • Compounds
    • Organic and Inorganic Compounds and Biochemistry
    • Used in Environmental Chemistry
    • Organic, inorganic and biological contaminants in the environment
  2. Ecological Concepts in the Environment
    • Pollutants in the environment
    • Degradation of pollutants
    • Pricing measures implemented by government policy makers
    • Types of pollutants
    • Contaminants in the world's natural environments (biomes)
    • Water pollution and treatment
  3. Air and Environmental Chemistry
    • Composition of the Atmosphere
    • Vertical structure of the atmosphere
    • Purpose of the atmosphere
    • Air pollution and its source
    • Effects of air pollution
    • Climate change
    • Reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions
  4. Water and Environmental Chemistry
    • Hydrological Cycles
    • Marine (Ocean) Environments
    • Coastal Environments
    • Continental and Inland Water Environments
    • Water chemistry – important reactions
    • Water categories and classifications
    • Water and impurities and pollutants
    • Water quality standards
    • Water pollution management
    • Methods of water treatment
  5. Soil and Environmental Chemistry
    • The nature of soil
    • Soil properties
    • Important soil chemical reactions
    • Soil chemistry and its importance in management
    • Soil pollution
    • Methods of soil remediation
    • Bioremediation
  6. Environmental Chemistry and Health
    • Health as policy
    • Specific health risks
    • Environmental health levels
    • Indoor and Outdoor air pollution
    • Water pollutants and health
    • Chemicals in households
    • Biological controls, pitfalls and positives
    • Creating green areas and raising public awareness
  7. Testing for Environmental Chemistry
    • Introduction to sampling and testing
    • Sampling design
    • Sampling equipment
    • Gas/air, soil and water sampling
    • Agricultural produce/plant tissue sampling
    • Using the correct sample container
    • Chain of custody
    • Chemical analysis in the field
    • Simple colorimetric tests and simple meters
    • Chemical analysis in the laboratory
  8. Applications for Environmental Chemistry
    • Environmental assessment and management
    • Principles of sustainable environmental management
    • Green chemistry in environmental management
    • Green chemistry is the future of environmental protection
    • Environmental building practices
    • Treating contamination or pollution sustainably
    • Urban planning concerns and considerations
    • Sustainable transport
    • Barriers to sustainability and green design


  • Describe the nature, importance and scope of environmental chemistry and advance an understanding of basic chemistry including atoms and their components, elements, compounds and chemical reactions.
  • Identify and explain the significance of a range of different contaminants in different environments.
  • Recognise the different forms of air pollutants and their source. Describe appropriate responses to contain, reduce or eliminate air pollutants.
  • Understand water sources, their qualities and effects on different environments.
  • Distinguish between various water pollutants and discuss appropriate responses to contain, reduce, eliminate or otherwise respond to such problems.
  • Understand the multiple roles of soil in environmental chemistry and recognise the different forms of soil pollutants and their sources. Describe appropriate responses to contain, reduce or eliminate soil pollutants.
  • Explain how improvements in the management of environmental chemicals can contribute toward better-quality human health.
  • Explain the importance of correct techniques for sampling and preservation of air, water, soil and produce samples and describe the various testing techniques utilised in environmental chemistry for these.
  • Explain broad goals of green chemistry, and describe how urban planning is linked to green-engineering and overall environmental sustainability.

What You Will Do

  • Locate some information in local newspapers, magazines, books or on the internet about environmental chemistry. Choose two of the news items- one that is important globally or country-wide and one that is important within your own community or household. Make some notes about these issues: describe how the issue has come about, if it is causing problems and if so, what is being done to stop, contain or reduce or these problems. Spend up to 1 hour doing this task.
  • Visit a retail supplier such as a hardware store, pool shop, farm supply store or nursery. Have a look at chemical products used for growing, building and cleaning. Try and locate ones with hazard pictograms on. Make notes on at least five of these chemicals you identify, and research how they can be safely used and any potential problems if not used correctly. If you are not able to visit one of these premises, look on the internet or in books for the information.
  • Do some research and find out what guidelines or standards are used for drinking water in your region. Establish who is responsible for upholding these guidelines. You could use the internet or approach a local authority (e.g. a Water authority, a Council office) or look in libraries for such information. If you are not able to find this information, look on the internet for an example from elsewhere. Make notes on the guidelines. What groups of water quality parameters are specified? Who determines if the water quality is correct or not? What happens if it is not? How does the authority notify the public? Choose any three water quality parameters identified and make notes on these. Take no more than 1.5 hours to complete this.
  • Following the guidelines discussed in this lesson, collect two different soil samples (grab samples) from your garden or from an area adjacent to your dwelling if you do not have a garden. Try to choose samples that look or feel different e.g. a sample from a flower bed and one from under a tree with organic matter. Alternatively ask a friend or relative to provide these for you. Use the pH test kit you were sent with your course material to measure the pH values of the two samples.
    • Make notes on how you sampled the soils, how the tests went and the results. How did you avoid contamination? Into what container did you put your samples before testing. What did you sample with? Based on your soil pH, what nutrients might or might not be limiting – explain your reasoning.
    • Spend up to 1 hour doing this.


Green chemistry is the design of chemical processes, products and policies that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances and reduce use of non-renewable resources. It addresses every aspect of production, from initial design through to distribution and end of life for a product. 

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry:

1. Prevention 
Reduce waste through preventative practice: design processes that prevent waste production.

2. Atom economy 
Design methodology that maximises the use of all materials in the product. Aim to use up all the starting materials in creation of the final product. Waste few or no atoms.

3. Production of less hazardous chemicals from the outset 
Whenever possible, design methods that use safer substances, ideally those with low or no toxicity regarding humans and the environment.

4. Designing safer chemicals 
Design chemical products that have the desired effect while keeping human and environmental toxicity to a minimum.

5. Safer solvents
Whenever possible, reduce use of auxiliary compounds such as solvents and separation agents. If use is necessary, aim to use safer compounds, with little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.

6. Designed with energy efficiency on mind 
Minimise energy requirements whenever possible. Aim to run processes at ambient temperature and pressure whenever possible. 

7. Use renewable animal feedstocks 
Whenever possible, use renewable stocks and materials rather than limited or depleting ones. E.g. use renewable agricultural products or usable waste rather than fossil fuels.

8. Reduce derivatives 
Minimise or avoid derivitisation such as the use of blocking groups, protection/deprotection, temporary modification etc. Derivative use requires additional reagents and generates more waste.

9. Catalysis 
Use catalysts where possible – small amounts are effective, and can catalyse a given reaction more than once. Avoid stoichiometric reagents where possible, as these are single-use.

10. Designed for future degradation 
Design compounds that will degrade after use to reduce waste and prevent environmental accumulation.

11. Analysis for pollution prevention 
Use real-time, in-process monitoring to collect data and control or eliminate by-products which contribute to waste.

12. Safer chemistry for accident prevention
Design processes and products to minimise potential chemical accidents such as explosions, fires, and releases into the environment.



To be successful in environmental studies, you need passion, persistence and a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. 
This course could assist you working in:
  • agriculture
  • local council
  • environmental protection
  • in conservation
  • in fisheries
  • in biosecurity
  • in land management and forestry
  • in military

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