Researchers Discover Surprisingly Simple, Cheap Method For Destroying PFAS
Leading researchers may have made a significant breakthrough in the ongoing battle against one of the country’s most notorious — and notoriously difficult to treat — drinking water and wastewater contaminants.
“Northwestern University chemists have done the seemingly impossible,” Good News Network reported. “Using low temperatures and inexpensive, common substances, the research team developed a process that causes two major classes of PFAS compounds to fall apart — leaving behind only benign end products.”
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” have been used extensively in industrial processes, leading to their presence in thousands of sites across the country and fears about the consequences of consuming them through drinking water. And while the U.S. EPA has signaled that it will be taking stricter action to regulate these contaminants, PFAS are expensive and challenging to treat.
So potential breakthroughs like the one uncovered by the Northwestern researchers will likely be welcomed by drinking water and wastewater treatment professionals around the world.
“While studying the compounds, (the Northwestern team) found a weakness,” according to Good News Network. “PFAS contains a long tail of unyielding carbon-fluoride bonds. But at one end of the molecule, there is a charged group that often contains charged oxygen atoms… They targeted this group by heating PFAS in dimethyl sulfoxide and sodium hydroxide (and) the process decapitated the head group, breaking the bond and leaving behind the rest.”
Though any solution making it easier to destroy PFAS would be embraced by the treatment industry, it may be some time before this new method is proven to be effective and rolled out on a large scale. If and when it can become a go-to tool in the ongoing fight against forever chemicals, it may necessitate an extra step for drinking water treatment plant influent.
“If the new approach were to be applied to water treatment on a wide scale, the water would likely need to go from a treatment facility to an off-site location,” per NBC News. “There, the PFAS could be extracted, then exposed to the necessary mixture of lye and dimethyl sulfoxide.”