Eliminating ‘Forever Chemicals’: A Comprehensive Guide

**New Study Shows Promising Breakthrough in Destroying PFASs**

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has discovered an effective method for destroying perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs). These “indestructible chemicals” have been found to accumulate in both humans and the environment, with suspected health effects including asthma, cancer, and reproductive organ changes. PFASs have been a major concern due to their resistance to degradation. However, the study has shown that a heat- and pressure-based technique called supercritical water oxidation can destroy 99 percent of PFASs present in water samples.

**The Resilience and Widespread Presence of PFASs**

PFASs are renowned for their unique properties that make them suitable for various engineering applications. They are resistant to damage from high temperatures and chemicals, and they repel both oil and water. These qualities have led to widespread use in consumer products, as well as applications such as firefighting foam. Unfortunately, PFASs have now become ubiquitous in the environment, contaminating soil, groundwater, and even tap water in several areas around the world. Studies have documented measurable concentrations of PFASs in the blood and breast milk of individuals across Europe.

**Hope for Destroying “Indestructible” PFASs**

The recent study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency utilized a new method to destroy PFASs, which had previously been considered indestructible. The technique involved adding oxidizing substances to water contaminated with PFASs and subjecting the liquid to temperatures above its critical temperature (374 degrees Celsius) and pressure (more than 220 bars). This process creates a supercritical state in which water-repellent substances like PFASs dissolve more readily and chemical reactions accelerate. The study tested methods from three different companies, all of which successfully reduced the amount of PFASs in the water by over 99 percent.

**Potential Commercial Application of Supercritical Water Oxidation**

The success of the study’s supercritical water oxidation method suggests that this technology could soon be deployed for significantly impacted sites or wastewater treatment. Supercritical water oxidation systems are already commercially available, making it a viable option for tackling PFAS contamination. The research team, led by EPA researcher Max J. Krause, is currently evaluating air emissions to ensure the complete destruction of PFASs and examine all possible pathways. However, it is important to note that while this breakthrough offers hope in combating PFAS pollution, challenges remain.

**Limitations and Concerns with Supercritical Water Oxidation**

Although the supercritical water oxidation method shows promise, some experts have expressed concerns regarding its practicality and scalability. Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology Jamie DeWitt questions whether the benchtop success of the technique can be effectively applied on a larger scale, such as in watersheds or drinking water treatment facilities. The complexity and high costs associated with the technology, due to the required high temperatures and pressures, make it less accessible for widespread use. Additionally, the current method is not suitable for cleaning contaminated soils and groundwater, highlighting the need to restrict the use of PFASs to essential applications.

**Addressing the Persistence of PFASs**

Given the persistence and potential harm caused by PFASs, some experts argue for the phasing out of their production. The sheer variety of industrially used PFASs, many of which are still not adequately understood, raises concerns about their long-term impact on the environment and human health. While the supercritical water oxidation method may effectively reduce the pollution caused by known PFASs, it may not fully alleviate the threat posed by these “forever chemicals.”

In conclusion, the recent study’s breakthrough in using supercritical water oxidation to destroy PFASs offers a promising solution to tackle these persistent and harmful substances. However, challenges related to the cost, practicality, and scalability of the method must be addressed. Additionally, there is a need to restrict the use of PFASs to essential applications and explore alternatives to minimize their long-term impact. By continuing research and finding innovative solutions, we can strive for a sustainable world free from the harmful effects of PFASs.

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