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The chemicals industry is one of the largest industries in the world, with global sales in 2014 of nearly $5.4 trillion, according to the American Chemistry Council. More than 20 million jobs are directly or indirectly connected to the chemical industry. In the United States, more than 10,000 companies directly employ more than 784,000 workers. Another 2.7 million jobs are indirectly connected to the industry and total industry sales were $769.4 billion (2012), according to SelectUSA.
The main goal of the industry is to develop, manufacture, and distribute chemicals for other manufacturers as well as consumers. Two clear sectors make up the chemical industry: organic and inorganic chemicals. These sectors refer to the types of raw materials that are used to create the chemical products. Organic chemicals are derived from fossil fuels and biomass materials, while inorganic chemicals are produced from combining elements and compounds. Examples of inorganic chemicals include sodium chloride, iron oxide, and hydrochloric acid. Both types of materials are sold as ingredients for other products or to consumers for specific uses. Other chemical products include plastic resins, dyes, and pigments. Chemical products are used in many common household products such as soaps, detergents, and cleaners.
Chemicals have been used for centuries for various uses, but widespread and large-scale production of chemicals began with alkalis and alkaline salts of potassium and sodium in the late 1700s. In 1872, the chemical industry was revolutionized by the introduction of a more efficient, less costly process for making alkalis, which also helped boost the industry's growth. Both World War I and World War II had significant impacts on the chemicals industry. During World War I and II, shortages of chemicals produced in Germany and natural rubber drove American chemical companies to create chemical products and synthetic rubber in the United States.
In the 2000s, the U.S. chemical industry worked to develop more environmentally friendly products and reduce its impact on the environment, initiating the green chemistry movement. According to the American Chemical Society, green chemistry is the design, development, and implementation of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals that are hazardous to human health and the environment.
In addition to the traditional jobs needed in every industry, such as accounting, human resource professionals, sales people, and similar positions, the primary jobs in the chemical industry are related to the science and technology of chemicals. These jobs include chemical engineers, chemical technicians, chemists, and petroleum engineers, to name a few. These employees are hired to discover, test, or provide research on various chemicals pertinent to a specific sector of the industry.
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