Scientists discover new technique to break down ‘eternal chemicals’ | Smart News

Fire-fighting foam can contain “permanent chemicals,” which are found in many products, including food packaging and non-stick cookware. These compounds accumulate in air, soil and water.
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Scientists have developed a new method to destroy a group of long-lived, man-made chemicals linked to a litany of health problems.

These chemicals are called PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, but they have also earned the nickname “eternal chemicals” because of the difficulty in removing them from the environment.

In a new study, published last week in the journal Science, researchers destroyed PFAS by mixing them with water, a soap ingredient and a common solvent. When they boiled the solution, most of the PFAS broke down into harmless byproducts within hours, and the rest broke down within days, according to the New York TimesCarl Zimmer.

The new technique destroys only certain types of PFAS. But it could be simpler and cheaper than current methods of breaking down chemicals, according to Scienceit is Robert F. Service.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a degradation mechanism where I’m like, ‘this could actually make a difference,'” said Shira Joudan, an environmental chemist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who doesn’t did not participate in the study. recount Nature NewsGiorgia Guglielmi.

PFAS have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. They have been added to food wraps, nonstick cookware, furniture, cosmetics, and other items. For manufacturers, these chemicals were an attractive choice: They don’t react with other molecules, so they repel water and grease, writes Gizmodoit is Laurent Leffer.

“The chemicals were initially designed by companies to be stable – that was a feature, but once they get into the environment, that’s a flaw,” Joudan said. Nature News.

Manufacturing facilities have released PFAS into the air and companies have dumped the chemicals into rivers, where they can last for generations, according to the Time. Today, the United States has nearly 3,000 sites contaminated with PFAS, according to Science. “We’ve really polluted the whole world with this stuff,” said William Dichtel, co-author of the new study and a chemist at Northwestern University. Time.

Since PFAS do not break down on their own, they accumulate in drinking water, soil and air and eventually enter our bodies, through Gizmodo. A study estimates that PFAS can be found in the blood of 97% of Americans.

According to Time.

Researchers have long searched for effective, inexpensive, and safe ways to get rid of chemicals. They can be filtered out of the water, but if they are then put in a landfill, they will eventually seep into the ground, Science. Scientists have tried incinerating PFAS, but this expensive strategy still allows some of the chemicals to survive and escape into the air, according to the Time.

While the new PFAS destruction technique shows promise, it’s not a silver bullet, experts say. There are thousands of types of PFAS, and the method only worked for one major class of them, for Gizmodo. And Dichtel tells the Time that much work needs to be done before the technique can be used outside the laboratory.

Moreover, the value of the new method lies solely in destroying PFAS that have already been filtered out of the water. It “really wouldn’t be good” to just throw the soap and PFAS-dissolving solvent into the water supply, says chemist Brittany Trang, lead researcher on the study, for Gizmodo.

Still, it is a step towards a PFAS solution. “It’s a neat method; it’s different from others that have been tried,” says Chris Sales, an environmental engineer at Drexel University who was not involved in the study. Scientific NewsJude Colman. “The bigger question is how could this be adapted and scaled up? »

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