Scientists Build Arsenal to Destroy PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’

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Topline

Northwestern University researchers described a potential way to destroy so-called synthetic “eternal chemicals” known as PFAS in a paper published Thursday in the journal Sciencethe latest work to develop ways to break down ubiquitous chemicals that have been shown to be harmful to human health.

Highlights

Researchers have found that a type of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) called PFCAs (perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids) can be broken down by heating them with solvents at relatively low temperatures of 80 to 120 degrees centigrade when combined with sodium hydroxide – an inexpensive chemical commonly found in soap.

The promising study comes three months after researchers at the University of California, Riverside published a study in Environmental science and technology find iodide treatment used in combination with ultraviolet light and sulfite can destroy up to 90% of harmful carbon-fluorine atoms in PFAS within hours, while Battelle researchers have developed technology to oxidation of water called “PFAS destroyerto destroy chemicals “without creating harmful by-products.”

PFAS, which are common Ingredients in Teflon and other non-stick and waterproof materials, as well as fire-fighting foam, have become a growing concern in recent years after researchers found alarming levels in air, animals and drinking water – l ‘Environmental Protection Agency has Posted drinking water advisories for two common types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS.

The chemicals have been linked to increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of kidney cancer and testicular cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women and low birth weight, according the Toxic Substances Agency and the Disease Registry.

The North West scientists say their technique deviates from the harsher methods used to break down chemicals, such as incineration and plasma-based oxidation.

The researchers also found that the degradation process used in the study can also be used for other types of PFAS and process the chemicals to lower concentrations than the levels used in the study.

Key Context

PFAS are called “eternal chemicals” because their strong carbon-fluorine bonds allow them to persist without degrading in the environment. They have been found in high concentrations near dumpswhere they are dumped, as well as airports, where firefighting foam is used in training exercises and around manufacturing plants. The chemicals were invented in the 1930s and largely phased out of manufacturing by the mid-2000s. In June, the EPA announced new standards for PFAS, as well as a new chemical called GenX, in drinking water and announced a billion dollar grant program for states to address PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Large number

0.02 parts per trillion. This is the acceptable amount of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) in drinking water, according to the EPA guidelines released in June. For PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), that’s 0.004 parts per trillion, well below the EPA’s previous guideline of 70 parts per trillion, set in 2016.

Further reading

Battelle’s PFAS annihilator scores victory over ‘Forever Chemicals’ (Forbes)“Eternal chemicals” remain in the air and water permanently. But scientists have found a new way to destroy them. (NBC News)

‘Forever Chemicals’ In Your Drinking Water Is Worse Than We Thought (Forbes)

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