Scientists find way to destroy PFAS chemicals

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Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 7:01 PM EDT
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N.C. (WITN) - Some of the most stubborn manmade chemicals, which many health experts believe are harmful to humans, may have finally met their match, according to new research.

WITN has been looking into the study that has found a way to destroy some categories of PFAS.

Northwestern University researchers found out how to break the chemicals down with two relatively harmless chemicals.

From drinking water to other common household items, PFAS chemicals—or forever chemicals, as they are infamously known, are found in a lot of places, and they tend to stay in the places they go.

“They’re all manmade chemicals so these are not found naturally,” UNC Chapel Hill professor and chemist Frank Leibfarth said. “It’s a problem that will only get worse because they don’t degrade. They increase the risk of certain types of cancer.”

That “forever” title, however, may have just met its match.

A study published by researchers at Northwestern University has found a way to destroy these stubborn chemicals when it comes to GenX PFAS chemicals.

Leibfarth says the research is a great advancement.

“What this study did is said, ‘alright, we applied these conditions and this is what we got out,’ but then they did the really hard work of understanding every step in that process,” Leibfarth said.

Two harmless chemicals, sodium hydroxide, a chemical used to make soap, and dimethyl sulfoxide, a chemical approved as a medication, are the keys to the safe destruction of these PFAS.

Exposing these particles to very high heat used to be the only operational way of destroying them in the past. The new method appears to be more energy efficient and safer.

If Gen-X sounds familiar, it’s because you may remember the controversy surrounding the company Chemours and how it was accused of releasing the chemical into the Cape Fear River, a water source for hundreds of thousands in New Hanover County.

“North Carolina, especially the Wilmington area, has really led a lot of national and international awareness of this issue,” Leibfarth said.

The study found that the method was not effective on the PFOS, so research continues on how to best handle that classification of PFAS chemicals.

There are many types of household water filters today that can help in blocking PFAS from making it into your cup.


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