Scientists find safe method to destroy ‘forever chemicals’
Forever chemicals” used in daily items like nonstick pans have long been linked to serious health issues, a result of their toxicity and extreme resistance to being broken down as waste products, Qazet.az reports.
Chemists in the United States and China on Aug. 18 said they had finally found a breakthrough method to degrade these polluting compounds, referred to as PFAS, using relatively low temperatures and common reagents.
Their results were published in the journal Science, potentially offering a solution to a longstanding source of harm to the environment, livestock and humans.
“It really is why I do science, so that I can have a positive impact on the world,” senior author William Dichtel of Northwestern University told reporters during a news conference.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were first developed in the 1940s and are now found in a variety of products, including nonstick pans, water-resistant textiles and fire suppression foams.
Over time, the pollutants have accumulated in the environment, entering the air, soil, groundwater and lakes and rivers as a result of industrial processes and from leaching through landfills.
A study published last week by Stockholm University scientists found rainwater everywhere on the planet is unsafe to drink because of PFAS contamination.
Chronic exposure to even low levels has been linked to liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced immune responses, low birth weights and several kinds of cancer.
Although PFAS chemicals can be filtered out of water, there are few good solutions for how to dispose of them once they have been removed.
Current methods to destroy PFAS require harsh treatments, such as incineration at extremely high temperatures or irradiating them with ultrasonic waves.
And incineration isn’t always foolproof, with one New York plant found to still be releasing some of the compounds into the air through smoke.
PFAS’ indestructability comes from their carbon-fluoride bonds, one of the strongest types of bonds in organic chemistry.
Fluorine is the most electronegative element and wants to gain electrons, while carbon is keen to share them.
PFAS molecules contain long chains of these bonds, but the research team was able to identify a glaring weakness common to a certain class of PFAS.