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Advancing a possible end to ‘forever chemicals'

Date: 18-Mar-20
Author: Macquarie 'Q' Simon

Because PFAS chemicals do not readily biodegrade, researchers expect their longterm use has resulted in significant water contamination.

Because PFAS chemicals do not readily biodegrade, researchers expect their longterm use has resulted in significant water contamination.

A team of engineers from the University of California – Riverside have shown that they might have a solution for a group of potentially harmful chemicals previously thought to be virtually indestructible.  

You may have never heard of them but perfluoralkyls and polyfluoroalkyls, synthetic chemicals better known as PFAS, are all around us. They are also understood to have some of the strongest atomic bonds in organic chemistry in their long chains made up of carbon and flurorine atoms, hence the nickname 'forever chemicals'.

Resilient to heat, other chemicals, and physical force, PFAS have occupied thousands of common household and industrial goods including, but certainly not limited to, food packaging, textiles, cleaning products, polishes, and firefighting foams. 

Unfortunately, these chemicals are known as a major contaminate of water supplies and because they do not biodegrade, PFAS can bioaccumulate in the body over a lifetime. However, recent discoveries by a team of researchers from UC Riverside may advance an end to these ‘forever chemicals'. 

Lead author Sharma Yamijala of the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering found that when perfluorooctanoic and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid molecules in water were surrounded by excess electrons, they lost their fluorine atom. The bonds between these fluorine atoms and the carbon chains they link to

 “In a real water treatment scenario, the excess electrons could come from metal-containing compounds placed in the water under ultraviolet radiation. The electrons from these compounds will interact with the PFA molecules and break them,” said Yamijala in a statement.

This kind of real-world treatment is likely some time away, but the research represents an important breakthrough to build upon in future studies.

 

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Macquarie 'Q'                                     Simon
Author: Macquarie 'Q' Simon

Macquarie "Q" Simon has joined the Planet Ark team this fall while studying abroad in Sydney. Q is a junior at Lafayette College, pursuing an Environmental Studies and Social Justice double major.



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