Scientists think they’ve found a way to get rid of eternal pollutants | TechBuzz

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Researchers have discovered a new way to destroy PFAS. A relatively simple and affordable process that still needs to be made operational outside the laboratory.

A team of scientists has reportedly discovered a safe and affordable method to destroy “eternal pollutants“. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are found in many everyday products, from Teflon non-stick pans to dental floss. According to US Environmental Protection Agency, at least 12,000 of these substances exist today. And they all share one thing in common: a carbon-fluorine backbone which is one of the strongest single bonds in organic chemistry. This is what gives PFAS-treated cookware its non-stick character. That being said, these substances can be harmful to humans.

Researchers have discovered a new way to destroy PFAS

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Because they are very durable, from a molecular perspective, PFAS can last for generations in soil and water. Scientists have shown that prolonged exposure can increase the risk of contracting certain cancers, reduce immunity and have effects on the development of children. Researchers have spent years trying to figure out how to break down that carbon-fluorine bond that makes PFAS so resistant, but today a big breakthrough may have been made.

A relatively simple and affordable process

In a study published in the journal Science, a group of chemists from UCLA, the Northwestern University and China discovered that a mixture of sodium hydroxide, a product used in particular in soda, and an organic solvent called dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was very effective in breaking down a large subgroup of PFAS, the carboxylic acids perfluorinated or perfluorinated carboxylates (PFCAs). When study author Brittany Trang heated the mixture to between 79 and 121°C, the bonds between the PFAS molecules began to break. After a few days, the mixture can even reduce the fluorinated by-products and turn them into harmless molecules. Sodium hydroxide is one of the most important elements of this mixture. It binds with PFAS molecules after DMSO has softened them and accelerates their breakdown.

that still needs to be made operational outside the laboratory

Professor William Dichtel, one of the study’s co-authors, told The New York Times that there is still a lot of work before a working solution outside of a lab is developed. There is also the matter of volume. Last February, scientists estimated that humans release around 50,000 tonnes of PFAS into the atmosphere each year. Another recent study had discovered that rainwater, in the four corners of the globe, was unfit for consumption because of the presence of too many of these substances. However, scientists are very excited about Brittany Trang’s discovery. This could provide researchers with new processes for destroying these PFASs.

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