Researchers have discovered a way to eliminate ‘forever chemicals’ that can usually take hundreds or thousands of years to break down in ground-breaking results.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have developed a new water treatment which has the ability to filter and remove harmful chemicals from drinking water.
It is believed this is a safe and efficient process which will permanently remove these ‘forever chemicals’. As the name suggests, this is a significant achievement for science.
What are ‘forever chemicals’? – what the new treatment is tackling
Known as per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAs), there are around 4,700 such substances which exist and are in use. They seep into rainwater, soil, sediment and drinking water. From here, they can be ingested by humans and animals.
They are used for non-stick or strain-resistant surfaces, including clothing, cookware, stain repellents, waterproof wet weather gear, and firefighting foam.
Such chemicals have been used since the 1940s and can also be found in the likes of fast-food packaging and household products such as shampoo and dental floss, illustrating the landscape they can secretly cover.
The ground-breaking research – how scientists are breaking down ‘forever chemicals’
In recent times, PFAs have been found to be linked to a number of negative health concerns. For example, elevated levels of cholesterol, hormonal disruption, infertility, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases.
The scientists at UBC announced that they developed a new silica-based material with the ability to absorb a wider range of the harmful chemicals and new tools to break them down and help to eliminate them.
The reusable material acts like a filter, which will trap most of the harmful particles, which are then destroyed using unique electrochemical and photochemical processes.
Lead scientist Dr Mohseni said, “Our absorbing media captures up to 99% of PFAS particles and can also be regenerated and potentially reused.
“This means that when we scrub off the PFAS from these materials, we do not end up with more highly toxic solid waste that will be another major environmental challenge”.
How it is currently treated – the new research is a step further
Currently, activated carbon is used to filter out the chemicals. Dr Mohseni has said that these versions “are equally toxic and they stay in the water better. And as a result, current technologies really aren’t as effective”.
These current technologies, according to Dr Mohseni, “are not addressing the problem. We’re just temporarily fixing it and letting those chemicals stay in the environment”.
Dr Mohseni and his team and the UBC are operating a pilot project to examine the effectiveness of their solution in the real world. They hope to start another in British Columbia this month and potentially a third in Quebec.
The challenge now is to get other cities to adopt this innovative technology to fully eradicate the problem.
Mohseni concluded, “One way to fix that is to do what we’ve done. The other way to fix this, and this would be exciting, is for industry not to use the chemicals any more”.