Scientists have discovered a method to destroy ‘forever chemicals’
A new method for decomposing ‘forever chemicals’ or PFAS may represent a major breakthrough in addressing widespread environmental contamination across the world, according to research published on Science.
Image: Rob Wick/Unsplash
PFAS are a large family of human-made chemicals known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down in the environment, which has led to widespread contamination.
Image: Julia Koblitz/Unsplash
Manufacturers use PFAS to make products resistant to oil, heat, stain, or water. They are found in everything from cosmetics, to outdoor gear, non-stick pans, food wrappers, and countless others, according to the CDC, and so end up in our food, water, and air.
Image: Louis Hansel/Unsplash
One study found that 97% of Americans have measurable levels of PFAS in their blood. For years, experts have said the most common way to be exposed to PFAS is through drinking water.
Image: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash
An emerging low temperature technique to break down PFAS has proven to be very effective. “The fundamental knowledge of how PFAS degrade is the single most important thing coming out of this study,” said Will Dichtel, researcher and co-author of the new study.
Image: Elisa Cano/Unsplash
Just a week ago, research conducted by the University of Stockholm, revealed that rainwater almost everywhere on Earth has unsafe levels of ‘forever chemicals’.
Image: Hannah Domsic/Unsplash
Researchers found Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in rainwater nearly everywhere on the globe, including in Antarctica.
Image: Torsten Dederichs/Unsplash
Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain, according the CDC. Some scientists even say that there is no link between PFAS and health problems.
However, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says exposure to PFAS may lead to higher risk for kidney or testicular cancer, increased cholesterol levels, and damage to the liver and immune system.
“There has been an astounding decline in guideline values for PFAS in drinking water in the last 20 years”, says Ian Cousins, lead author of the study on rainwater.
An example: The water guideline values for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a known carcinogen, have declined by 37.5 million times in the U.S.
Image: Bluewater Sweden / Unsplash
“Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink”, says Cousins.
Image: Mike Kotsch/Unsplash
“Although in the industrial world we don't often drink rainwater, many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink, and it supplies many of our drinking water sources”, added the author of the study.
Furthermore, agriculture around the world depends on rainfall, and everything we eat demands water.
Experts have been calling for new limits on PFAS for years, and studies like these regularly renew calls to do so.
“It cannot be that some few benefit economically while polluting the drinking water for millions of others, and causing serious health problems”, Dr. Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packing Foundation in Zurich, told Euro News.
Image: Xianyu Hao/Unsplash
“The vast amounts that it will cost to reduce PFAS in drinking water to levels that are safe, based on current scientific understanding, need to be paid by the industry producing and using these toxic chemicals”, said Muncke.
In June 2021, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the “No PFAS in Cosmetics Act” to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics and personal-care items. The bill failed to move to the committee.
Image: Evangeline Sarney/Unsplash
However, plenty of companies have pledged to stop using PFAS in their products, including some clothing, fast food, and outdoor sports brands. The Green Science Policy institute put together a list of brands of products that are PFAS-free that is available online.
Image: Lucie Capkova/Unsplash
So until scientists actually apply the new method to get rid of ‘forever chemicals’, a good way to limit our exposure to them is by buying PFAS-free products when we need to replace our own.
Image: Cooker King/Unsplash