Scientists have Discovered a Method for Breaking Down Toxic "Forever Chemicals"

Method for breaking down forever chemicals

U.S. scientists have discovered a method to destroy harmful chemicals that were previously indestructible. These chemicals are a global pollution problem and health risk.

The researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois and the University of California, Los Angeles, have created a simple, low-energy procedure that transforms two of the most prevalent PFAS compounds into benign chemicals.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of around 4,700 manufactured chemicals that do not break down in the environment. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they persist indefinitely. PFAS have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, immune system suppression, and hormone disruption.

The Process to Breakdown PFAS

The new process uses sodium hydroxide, already widely used in industry, to break down the PFAS molecules. The researchers tested the method on two PFAS compounds commonly found in the environment: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFOS and PFOA are used in various products, including non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and stain-resistant fabrics. They have also been used in firefighting foams, a significant source of environmental PFAS contamination.

The new process was found to be highly effective at breaking down PFAS molecules. PFOS and PFOA were wholly destroyed within minutes, with no harmful byproducts.

PFAS Pollution and Contamination

This is a significant breakthrough in the fight against PFAS pollution. PFAS compounds are tough to break down, and previous methods required high temperatures or harsh chemicals. The new process is simple, low-energy, and can be easily scaled up for industrial use.

PFAS contamination is a significant problem in the environment. PFAS molecules are found worldwide in drinking water, soil, and the air. They have also been found in rainwater, which suggests they are being released into the atmosphere.

Aerial Shot of Amazon rainforest in Brazil, South America

The Northwestern-UCLA procedure will necessitate the collection or concentration of PFAS from water and polluted locations before they can be destroyed. The team of scientists that made the discovery said they are eager to collaborate with the environmental remediation sector on implementing it. In addition, they are trying to expand their technique to other types of persistent chemicals.