Scientists have discovered a simple method to destroy certain “perennial pollutants”

Scientists have discovered a simple method to destroy certain “perennial pollutants”

Scientists announced Thursday that they have found a method to destroy certain pollutants, known as “eternal” because of their extreme resilience and toxicity, which are present in many everyday objects and can cause serious health problems. Developed by chemists in the United States and China whose work was published in the journal Science, the technique, which requires relatively low temperatures and what are known as shared reagents, offers a potential solution to an ongoing problem for the environment, livestock and agriculture farming people.

More than 12,000 “forever chemicals”

Developed in the 1940s, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyls), which break down extremely slowly, can be found in packaging, shampoos, non-stick pans and even makeup. Over time, they have spread throughout our environment: water, soil, air, groundwater, lakes and rivers. A Swedish study last week showed that rainwater was undrinkable anywhere on earth due to excessive levels of PFAS. According to some studies, exposure to PFAS may have an impact on fertility and fetal development. It can also lead to an increased risk of obesity or certain types of cancer (prostate, kidney and testicles) and an increase in cholesterol levels.

Current methods to break down these pollutants require powerful treatments such as B. Incineration at very high temperature or ultrasonic irradiation. Their almost indestructible character is related to the long carbon-fluorine bonds they are made of, which are among the strongest in organic chemistry. However, the researchers managed to identify a vulnerability in certain types of PFAS: at one end of their molecule, a group of oxygen atoms can be attacked by a solvent and a common reagent at average temperatures of 80 to 120 degrees Celsius. When this happens, “it causes the entire molecule to break down in a cascade of complex reactions,” says William Dichtel of Northwestern University, one of the study’s authors.

Scientists have also used powerful computational methods to map the quantum mechanics behind these chemical reactions. Work that could potentially be used to improve the method. The current study focused on 10 PFAS, including a major pollutant called GenX, which contaminated North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. But according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there are more than 12,000 “forever chemicals.” “There are other types (of PFAS) that don’t have the same Achilles’ heel, but each has its own vulnerability,” stresses William Dichtel. “If we can identify it, we’ll know how to activate it to destroy it.”