According to research published on Thursday, a new method for decomposing some PFAS compounds may be a major breakthrough in addressing widespread environmental pollution.
Man-made processes that attempt to destroy per and polyfluoroalkyl substances are expensive and have questionable results.
Toxic chemicals are thought to be tainting drinking water supplies for over 200 million Americans because they don't degrade. 98% of Americans have been found to have them in their blood. They were found in alarmingly high levels in some food and the air.
Researchers have not figured out how to completely destroy the chemicals after they are removed.
Findings published on Thursday in Science show the effectiveness of an emerging low temperature technique. The most important thing coming out of the study is the fundamental knowledge of how PFAS degrades.
Public health advocates have raised concerns about the use of deep well injection or landfilling to dispose of the chemicals. It is believed that only breaking apart the compounds will send dangerous pieces of PFAS into the air.
There is no way to dispose of PFAS that is benign, so there is a need for a method to get rid of PFAS in a way that does not still harm the environment.
Thousands of consumer products are made using PFAS. They are widely used because they are so effective, but some of the compounds that have been studied are linked to serious health issues.
The method developed by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles is effective on perfluorocarboxylic acids. It includes compounds commonly produced by industry or found in the environment that are toxic at low levels and have been used in products such as waxes and food packaging.
They have at least one carbon atom that is fluorinated, which makes them virtually indestructible. The new process de-fluorinates the compounds with a mixture of water and a dipolar solvent.
The researchers think their method could be expanded to address other subclasses. Researchers say that this approach requires less energy than other methods.
The method is promising for further study because it operates under mild conditions.
Researchers said that the method is far from being ready to be scaled up and applied on a commercial level. The chemicals are found in the water at very low concentrations, so they would have to be removed from the water using a variety of filters. The new method could be used to treat the chemicals once they are concentrated in the water.
The findings were called meaningful by Dichtel, who said he had worked on the method for seven years.
We have never been given an answer to what we are going to do with these. Dichtel spoke.