Understand Chemicals in the Environment

This course introduces you to core concepts of environmental chemistry, green design, and sustainability. It helps you learn how to recognise potential sources of contamination, understand the effects of different pollutants on the environment and human health, and intentionally design healthier living spaces and practices.

What will studying Environmental Chemistry do for you?

  • Give you a sound grounding in the principles of sustainability, green design, and the effects of chemicals in your environment
  • Develop your practical skills so you can apply your learning and assess pollution and potential contaminants in a given environment
  • Provide the need-to-know chemistry basics for interpreting chemical use in a variety of situations

What will Environmental Chemistry teach you?

  • To understand the interactions of necessary chemicals vs. unnecessary chemicals in the environment
  • To understand the effects humans have had, and continue to have, on the environment
  • To identify and implement strategies to reduce or eliminate toxic exposures
  • To understand the essentials of chemistry, from atoms to compounds, and use these to interpret meaning across a variety of products and publications
  • To understand types of pollutants, where they come from and how they degrade, or fail to degrade
  • To understand the principles of biomes and their effect on humans
  • To understand biomagnification and how to reduce its impact on human health
  • To understand the necessity and use of appropriate environmental policies at a variety of governmental levels

As you can see this course is an 'all-rounder', an excellent beginning for anyone wanting to purify their home, understand the principles and importance of green design in their business, or green their personal and professional lives.

Course Content

There are eight Lessons in this course: 

  • Introduction to environmental chemistry and basic chemical
    • Environmental chemistry through time
    • Basic chemistry concepts
    • Compounds
  • Organic and inorganic compounds and biochemistry
    • Important terms used in environmental chemistry
    • Organic, inorganic and biological contaminants in the environment
    • Ecological concepts in the environment
    • Differences between contaminants, pollutants and hazardous chemicals
    • Pollutants in the environment and why they are detrimental
    • Types of pollutants
    • Contaminants in the world’s natural environments (biomes)
  • Air pollution and treatment
    • Composition and purpose of the atmosphere
    • Movement of air/gases around the earth
    • Air pollution and its source
    • Effects of air pollution
    • Air pollution and health
    • Climate change – global warming
    • Reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water pollution and treatment
    • Hydrological cycles
    • Marine (ocean) environments
    • Coastal environments
    • Water chemistry –important reactions
    • Water and impurities/pollutants
    • Water quality standards
    • Water pollution management
    • Methods of water treatment
  • Soil pollution and treatment
    • The nature of soil
    • Soil properties
    • Important soil chemical reactions
    • Nitrogen cycle reactions
    • Soil chemistry and its importance in management
    • Soil pollution
    • Methods of soil remediation
    • Bioremediation
  • Environmental chemistry and human health
    • Environmental health as policy
    • Specific health risks
    • Nuclear waste
    • Environmental health levels
    • Environmental health at national, state, and local levels
    • Managing human health
    • Creating green areas and raising public awareness
  • Environmental chemistry field sampling and testing
    • Sampling design
    • Sampling equipment
    • Gas/air sampling
    • Soil sampling
    • Agricultural produce/plant tissue sampling
    • Water sampling
    • Chemical analysis in the field
    • Chemical analysis in the laboratory
  • Sustainability and green chemistry
    • Environmental assessment & management
    • Principles of sustainable environmental management
    • The 12 principles of green chemistry
    • Environmental building practices
    • Treating contamination or pollution sustainably
    • Urban planning concerns and considerations
    • Green engineering
    • Sustainable transport
    • Barriers to sustainability and green design


We are already experiencing the effects of climate change. In fact, the top 10 hottest years have all happened since 1998, with 2016 the hottest on record. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years, now exceeding 0.04% . Temperatures are rising, rainfall and snow patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate event like record high temperatures, droughts and floods are already taking place. These changes are linked to the climbing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels for energy.

By taking action to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas pollution, we can reduce the risks we face from future climate change.  There are many ways in which gas emissions can be reduced – at personal, community, government/corporation and international levels.


  • 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:

  • Describe what is meant by the hydrosphere and give one example where environmental chemistry has impacted negatively on one or more components of the hydrosphere.
  • Distinguish between important chemical structures and explain how they work.
  • Research and discuss decay of different types of pollutants.
  • Study a set of household products and determine possible environmental effects of their use.
  • Distinguish and explain the difference between oxygen molecules and ozone.
  • Explain why there are temperature differences between the five different layers making up the atmosphere.
  • Discuss the importance of dissolved O2 in terms of water
  • Explain the salinity of water samples, and determine appropriate categorization and use of water.
  • Research and discuss degradation processes.
  • Research and discuss policies and their impacts on human health.
  • Investigate several types of bioremediation and how it is used.
  • Collect and test soil samples
  • Investigate ways to limit toxic exposure, and manage exposure
International efforts to reduce gas emissions

International action on climate change includes use of emission reduction goals. Governments can then use laws/policies to support their target goals.  To date, over ninety countries, covering over 80 per cent of global emissions, have 2020 emission reduction goals. The current level of action, measured by the 2020 goals, is probably not sufficient to put the world on track but the level of action has steadily increased. To achieve their goals, countries are implementing a range of measures.

Examples of carbon pricing include ‘Carbon taxes’ and trading emission schemes.

Energy supply and demand goals can include renewable energy targets.  Vehicle standard goals can comprise rules for vehicle emissions and incentives to buy low emission cars. For land based emissions, goals such as improved soil management, carbon sinks, and control of landfill emissions are also being used in different countries.

There are many ways in which air pollution in general, including greenhouse gases, are reduced.

Large scale interventions include:

  • Public education on reducing gas emissions
  • Reduction of fossil fuel burning ( use greener energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines);
  • Protection of remaining forests and planting of new forests;
  • Strict regulations to control emissions from factories and cars;
  • Green belts around cities;
  • Design changes to vehicles to reduce emissions e.g. using catalytic converters
  • Carbon sequestration

Smaller personal scale interventions include:

  • Use of public transport, riding or walk to reduce vehicle emissions;
  • Planting more trees in your garden and community areas;
  • Opting for eco or green products in the house and garden e.g. low VOC paints, using essential oils instead of spray can air fresheners;
  • Supporting companies that are committed to saving energy and consumables and reducing emissions;
  • Recycling and re-using products instead of throwing them away where they can contribute to gas emissions from land fill.

Air purifiers

There are also small to large scale ways in which air can be physically and chemically cleaned e.g. home air purifiers, industrial purifiers. This is done through a combination of:

  • Particle filtering - through fabric or membranes.
  • Scrubbing – gas is passed through a scrubber and a liquid is injected. The gas breaks the liquid into fine drops which absorb the particles.
  • Sedimentation - particles settle out e.g. under gravity and are collected and removed.
  • Centrifuging - gas/air is spun by vanes and the particles are forced out by centrifugal force  where they may be collected in a separator.
  • Ionisation - electrodes remove charged particles.