Scientists discover new technique that can destroy dangerous ‘forever chemicals’

The effectiveness of a new low-temperature technique for breaking down PFAS was described in a study published in the Science journal on Thursday.

Public health advocates have long been concerned about the widespread disposal of chemicals through practices such as deep injection well and landfilling. Evidence suggests that the frequently incinerated chemicals only break down the compounds, releasing potentially hazardous PFAS fragments 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 pollute,” said Brittany Trang, a Northwestern researcher and one of the study’s lead authors.

Numerous industries and thousands of consumer goods use PFAS to make them resistant to heat, water, and stains. However, the compounds have been linked to severe diseases like cancer, congenital disabilities, liver disease, kidney problems, lowered immunity, and high cholesterol.

‘Meaningful’ findings

According to the researchers, their method could be expanded to address PFAS in other subclasses, requiring less energy than other methods used to try to destroy PFAS.

“This method operates under mild conditions and makes benign products, and that makes it immediately promising for further study,” said William Dichtel, a chemistry professor at Northwestern University.

Researchers stressed that the findings are preliminary and that the method is far from being ready to be scaled up and applied commercially. Reverse osmosis, granular activated carbon, or other forms of filtration would need to be used to first filter the chemicals out of the contaminated water because they are present in it in toxic amounts at very low concentrations.

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