Scientists have developed a new process that causes two major classes of harmful 'forever chemicals' to break down, leaving behind only benign end products.
Researchers, including those from Northwestern University in the US, said the “simple” new technique could be a “powerful solution” for disposing of these chemicals linked to dangerous health effects in humans, livestock and the environment.
In the new technique, described in the journal Science on Thursday, researchers captialised on the “Achilles’ heel” of these chemicals to develop a solution potentially more practical for widespread use. That's good news as PFAS (short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are terrible chemicals used since the 1940s and are commonly found in nonstick cookware, waterproof cosmetics, firefighting foams and products that resist grease and oil. These chemicals are not broken down in the environment and remain a persistent problem for generations to come.
But, hopefully, not any more. In the new study, scientists found that when PFAS were targeted by heating them in the solvent dimethyl sulfoxide, it “decapitated” a section of the molecule and left behind the “safest form of fluorine”. Using computer simulations, they discovered benign products remained after the process.
In future studies, they hope to test the effectiveness of the new strategy on other types of PFAS.
Whilst there are other classes that don’t have the same Achilles’ heel, each one will have its own weakness. If scientists can identify it, then they will know how to activate it to destroy it.
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