Among key developments in environmental chemistry this year, a thermophilic catalase purified and characterized by Vicki S. Thompson of the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Laboratory, Idaho Falls, and coworkers could help make industrial bleaching processes more benign [Biotechnol. Prog., 19, 1292 (2003)]. The enzyme converts the environmentally safe bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen under the high-temperature and high-pH conditions of industrial processes--which wasn't possible previously--so process water can be reused or returned to the environment.
Chlorinated hydrocarbons are commonly destroyed by incineration above 1,300 °C, but a lanthanide oxide-based catalytic system developed by chemistry professor Bert M. Weckhuysen and coworkers at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, destroys them at much lower temperatures and could thus save energy and money [Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 41, 4730 (2002)].
Plants are usually considered a sink for nitrogen oxides (NOx), not a source. But Pertti Hari of the University of Helsinki and coworkers found that exposure to ultraviolet rays causes pine trees to emit NOx--suggesting that forest emissions of these smog-forming compounds could be significant [Nature, 422, 134 (2003)].