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Which Metals are Green for Catalysis? Comparison of the Toxicities of Ni, Cu, Fe, Pd, Pt, Rh, and Au Salts

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Environmental profiles for the selected metals were compiled on the basis of available data on their biological activities. Analysis of the profiles suggests that the concept of toxic heavy metals and safe nontoxic alternatives based on lighter metals should be re-evaluated. Comparison of the toxicological data indicates that palladium, platinum, and gold compounds, often considered heavy and toxic, may in fact be not so dangerous, whereas complexes of nickel and copper, typically assumed to be green and sustainable alternatives, may possess significant toxicities, which is also greatly affected by the solubility in water and biological fluids. It appears that the development of new catalysts and novel applications should not rely on the existing assumptions concerning toxicity/nontoxicity. Overall, the available experimental data seem insufficient for accurate evaluation of biological activity of these metals and its modulation by the ligands. Without dedicated experimental measurements for particular metal/ligand frameworks, toxicity should not be used as a “selling point” when describing new catalysts.

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