Stock photo of polluted stream

Everywhere they are. In the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the soil we grow our food in,decades of industrial and commercial production and use have left virtually no corner of our lives untouched. These chemicals are toxic and don't degrade on their own. They accumulate in our environment and in our bodies.

A new chemical mechanism could help in the fight against pollution. Chemists have found a way to break down some chemicals into harmless component parts using cheap and common tools. The new research published in the journal Science is a big step in our understanding of how these compounds react. We are a long way from a healthier world, but we are close.

Why PFAS Are So Dangerous?

Food packaging, fire fighting foams, nonstick cookware, furniture, cosmetics, and other uses are just some of the uses of PFCs. They are great at repelling water, oil, and grease, and even at fighting fires. Being super-duper non-reactive is what they do. PFAS are made up of stable Molecules that stick to themselves.

Our systems can't get rid of them when they come into our bodies. They cause problems by piling up. Multiple types of cancer, immune system problems, high cholesterol, and issues with pregnant and infant development are all linked to the PFAS. In June, the EPA announced new limits on the amount of PFAS in drinking water.

They are very hard to avoid. In the U.S., both indoor and outdoor air, farm fields worldwide, fish, cosmetics, and elsewhere, have been found to be contaminated with peracetic acid.

These chemicals are incredibly hard to break down even with a lot of human effort. It seems that inineration doesn't work. There are lots of strategies that can lead to toxic things. There are many methods that can be hard to scale up and cost prohibitive.

What’s New About This Method?

One of the study researchers said in a press briefing on Tuesday that all other emerging PFAS degradation methods are very high energy. He emphasized the accessibility and relative ease of the new method.

The researchers were able to take one type of concentrated PFAS and break it up into smaller, non-toxic compounds using just a little heat and supplies.

Brittany Trang, who was the study's lead researcher and completed her PhD at Northwestern University last month, said that most chemists take two molecules and put them together to make one big molecule. We were looking at what was left to figure out how the Lego fell apart.

The second step is crucial. The chemists used quantum mechanical models to figure out how it happened and provided a road map for other researchers to use.

Diana Aga is a researcher at the University of Buffalo who was not involved in the new study. This publication has done a lot in terms of analysis and comprehensiveness.

The researchers heated their solution at temperatures between 80 and 120 degrees Celsius. After four hours, nearly 80% of the PFAS was gone, and after 12 hours, more than 90% of it disappeared, because of benign carbon byproducts like oxalate, which is in many vegetables.

Aga said that it's a big deal to characterize those byproducts. It helps ensure that more environmental harm won't come from trying to tackle the issue. She said that the study is beautiful because it was done.

What Are the Limitations?

The new research is not perfect. The researchers said this isn't the end of the problem.

The method only works on some PFAS There are many different types of PFAS compounds. carboxylates and sulfonates are two of the largest classes. The new method was able to get rid of almost all of the carboxylates, but it didn't work for the sulfonates.

The researchers hope they can address this and expand to sulfonates in future studies. This is not a general solution at the moment. We really would like to degrade sulfonates, as well as what we have today.

It is not possible for the researchers to dump lye and DMSO into the water supply. It wouldn't be good either, according to Trang in a phone call.

The method could be used to degrade PFAS that have already been removed from the water. There are lots of ways to do that through activated charcoal. A good destruction method is needed to make sure the PFAS doesn't return to the environment after being removed. The new research doesn't remove the pollution on its own.

Scientists, engineers, and lab groups have been working on the problem for a long time. A group of engineers published a method for breaking down a broad array of PFAS. Some work has focused on usingMicrobes to do the same. We probably need every method and knowledge we can get.

It isn't going to save the world tomorrow as much as I would like it to. It might help for a day after that.