Scientists have made a breakthrough in destroying a class of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.
While these substances are widely used for nonstick pans, sweatproof cosmetics, and waterproof apparel, PFAS have also been linked to serious health effects, including cancer, thyroid disease, and obesity.
Worse, PFAS degrade slowly in the environment, which is why they’re called forever chemicals. They can linger in the surroundings, including soil and rainwater, for thousands of years.
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But in a new study, a group of chemists led by Brittany Trang has found an easy, low-cost method to disintegrate a class of PFAS called perfluoro carboxylic acids or PFCAs. By using the common solvent dimethyl sulfoxide along with sodium hydroxide (aka caustic soda), the chemists were able to break down the PFCAs into non-harmful molecules.
Before this discovery, PFAS destruction typically involved an energy-intensive procedure involving high-temperature incineration, that could still introduce toxic byproducts into the environment.
Trang and her colleagues hope their research could lead to find more solutions to destroy PFAS safely. These solutions couldn’t come soon enough: PFAS have been detected in the human blood, with a recent study giving an estimate of 98 percent of Americans having PFAS in their bloodstream.