Green chemistry.  Back in my schoolin’ days, it usually meant that one of my experiments had somehow gotten off track…which may explain why I’ve never really put that chemistry degree to good use.

However, these days green chemistry has come to stand for the process of looking at how we do chemistry, be it research, industrial chemistry (such as manufacturing your favourite food additive) or other times people are inclined to mix chemicals, and seeing if there is a way we can reduce the environmental impacts of that chemistry…be it through using less chemicals, using chemicals with a lower environmental impact or using less stuff such as those test tube thingies or those graduated tubular thing-a-ma-bobs (really…I do have a degree in chemistry).

Now, I’ve been talking about green chemistry for some time now, but have always been on the lookout for that perfect example that really shows off its potential…so I’m tickled green that thanks to Scott MacDonald and the team in the Cytology lab, not only do I have an example, but an example of green chemistry right here at UHN! 

Here’s how it works…there’s this process called a Papanicolaou Stain where cell samples are dyed so that Cytotechnologists and Pathologists can examine them and provide a pathology diagnosis.   What the Cytology team did is look at the process and figure out how to do it faster, cheaper and with less impact on the environment…all without compromising the quality of the samples and keeping the Pathologists happy (to be honest, I’ve never seen an unhappy Pathologist, but it sounds like something best avoided).

 And here’s what they managed to do:

  • reduce cold water use from over 140,000 to 520 litres per year…that’s a 99% reduction, folks
  • slash hot water use from over 140,000 litres per year to 0 (zero, zilch, nada) litres…that’s a 100% reduction, folks
  • curtail use of alcohols, xylenes and stains by 655  litres per year, while eliminating use of lithium carbonate solution altogether
  • trim staining time from over half-an-hour to 6.5 minutes
  • roll-back the cost of performing the stain by over $10,000 per year

So the next time you seen a green blotch on UHN – fear not, because we’re stained green and we’re lovin’ it!