Ronald Hites and Jonathan Raff
2012 | 360pp | £30 (PB)
ISBN 9781118041550

Although this book is firmly rooted in chemistry, the elements of its title refer not to the chemical elements but are a playful nod to the ‘elements’ of antiquity – earth, water, air and fire – the traditional phases of study for the environment chemist (well, perhaps not fire). Instances of this light-hearted approach are scattered throughout the text, with some of the descriptions in the example problems in particular raising a wry smile.

With this new edition of this text comes an additional author and a slight expansion in coverage. Two new chapters – PCBs, dioxins and flame retardants and Climate change – supplement the previous chapters on Simple tool skills, Mass balance and kinetics, Atmospheric chemistry, Carbon dioxide equilibria, Pesticides, Mercury and lead and Fates of organic compounds. Also retained is the original focus on the demonstration of quantitative principles through a tutorial-like approach.

This is a fairly short book, however the intention is not to provide comprehensive description of the breadth of environmental chemistry but to illustrate the application of chemical principles to environmental processes. The concepts of mass balance and kinetics are exemplified through pollutant budgets in lakes or ozone in the stratosphere; of aqueous equilibria through acid rain and ocean acidification; and of phase partitioning through distribution of persistent organic pollutants in air, water, soil and biota.

In many instances the worked problems are narrative in nature, building up complexity step by step. Throughout there is a focus on keeping track of units in calculations, as well as demonstrations of the use of approximations to get to reasonable answers more directly and of pausing to cross-check answers for common sense – all essential skills for any quantitative scientist. An extensive set of additional problems is included in each chapter.

There are a few typos or misleading statements. Also, I think an opportunity has been missed in chapter 6, which largely lists the names and structures of a large set of pesticides – it would have been more insightful to relate aspects of their structure and functionality to their toxicity or environmental persistence. However, these are minor gripes. Overall, this is an instructive text for undergraduate environmental chemists (and their lecturers), punching well above what its compact format might initially suggest.

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