CHENNAI: Not just vehicles on the road or factories or the tonnes of garbage on the streets, even a chemistry lab experiment causes pollution to the environment.
In an effort to do their bit for conserving environment, the Chemistry department in the Madras Christian College is renovating its labs and finding ways to make their experimentation eco-friendly, reducing usage of chemicals and also replacing harmful chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide with less harmful ones such as sodium sulfide.
According to P Wilson, Head of Department, on extended exposure to hydrogen sulfide often resulted in headaches and nausea. “Since it is in a gaseous form, it is harmful for health. We have had incidents where attendants and teachers have fainted after inhaling the gas since they are in the lab the whole day. Sodium sulfide, on the other hand, is in a solid form and used in lesser quantity and does not vapourise but also gives the same results as the hydrogen sulfide does,” he explained.
Elucidating the minimal usage of chemicals which is also called the micro analytical technique, the professor said “Earlier chemicals were used at macro level, that is, large amount of elements were used for the experiments. It was then followed by semi-macro level experiment and now we have started at micro level. At micro level we are just taking one fifth of what we used at macro level,” he said.
“Besides hydrogen sulfide, the other replacement made in the labs is mercury-based thermometers being replaced with alcohol and paraffin based thermometer. Apart from these changes, carbon tetrachloride which is a cancerous substance is also used in very less quantity and is recycled by the method of distillation”, said the Head of the Department.
C Amirthavalli, another Assistant Professor of the department, said, “We have also adopted the burette method in experiments. In this method we are reducing the amount of solution, using only one fifth of a solution. Instead of 50 ml we are using one fifth of it with the same accuracy and result.”
The department has also planned four new laboratories and one laboratory meant for undergraduates has already been completed, while the others are due to be completed in 10 days.
While the old laboratories smelled of toxic fumes and rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide), there is no trace of it in the new ones. The professor explained that this was because the lab has spot extractors that kept the lab free from air-borne contaminants.