According to a study published in the journal Science, chemists at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Northwestern University identified a unique way to destroy “forever chemicals” by utilising a common component in soap and an organic solvent.
The highly durable and poisonous compounds have been found in drinking water systems across the United States and have been connected to adverse health impacts. The new approach is a comparatively cheap and safe method of breaking things down.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of almost 5,000 different chemicals that repel oil and water and endure high temperatures, earning them the name “forever chemicals.” For decades, they have been utilised in various nonstick, water-repellent, and fire-resistant commercial and consumer items, including cookware, food packaging, and firefighting materials.
PFAS can accumulate in people, animals, fish, and wildlife if they enter the environment through production or waste streams because they resist degradation.
The researchers discovered that a mixture of sodium hydroxide, or lye, and dimethyl sulfoxide, a common organic solvent, in water heated to 176 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit was capable of breaking the strong bonds that hold perfluoro carboxylic acids (PFCAs), one of the most common classes of PFAS, together.
The reaction produces fluoride ions that can be easily collected and carbon-containing byproducts.
According to the researchers, the new procedure differs from other harsh and energy-intensive PFAS destruction methods, such as incineration, electrochemical degradation, and supercritical water oxidation.
The federal government has recently increased its investigation of the class of chemicals, with the Environmental Protection Agency issuing new health advisories for four PFAS compounds earlier this year.