Scientists find a way to break down forever chemicals


A new study has found that forever chemicals (PFAS) can be destroyed by relatively harmless chemicals. Researchers at Northwestern University on Thursday revealed that they have found sodium hydroxide(lye) and dimethyl sulfoxide to be capable of breaking PFAS into harmless byproducts. In their study, they established that PFAS can be broken down when mixed with the two chemicals at temperatures of about 248 degrees Fahrenheit. The chemicals are broken down into fluoride ions and other harmless byproducts.

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Per and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that can stay in the environment forever. These chemicals are used in the manufacturing of products such as nonstick pans, carpets and firefighting foam. However, once they get to the environment, they stay forever.

Related: PFAS and other chemicals found in dollar store products

Besides being nonbiodegradable, PFAS are associated with a myriad of conditions, including low birth rate, thyroid disease and an increased rate of cancer. Recently, a study found that PFAS is associated with a high risk of liver cancer. 

William Dichtel, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and coauthor of the study, said that the stubborn compounds found in PFAS can be broken by a chain of reactions.

“One specific portion of these molecules falls off and sets off a cascade of reactions that ultimately breaks these PFAS compounds down to relatively benign products,” said Dichtel.

Currently, PFAS can easily be filtered out of water, but there is no way of breaking them down once they are out of the water. Consequently, the filtered PFAS are simply dumped in landfills where they stay for a lifetime. Whether dumped in landfills or broken down in an incinerator, PFAS are still harmful to the environment. 

“The current way that people will try to dispose of firefighting foams that contain PFAS is to incinerate them, but there has been evidence that these incinerators are actually just blowing the PFAS around the community in which the incinerator is located,” said coauthor of the study Brittany Trang. “So there’s a need for a method to get rid of PFAS in a way that does not continue to pollute.”

Via NBC News

Lead image via Pexels



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