Scientists believe they may have a method for breaking down harmful “forever chemicals,” according to a new study.
That study’s findings, however, are only preliminary and far from ready for large-scale commercial use, the Guardian reported.
The method involves using a mixture of water and dipolar aprotic solvent dimethyl sulfoxide to “defluorinate” perfluorocarboxylic acids, one subclass of the “forever chemicals” that are very toxic at even low levels and used in food packaging, according to the Guardian. That process leaves harmless carbon and inorganic fluoride.
The process is low energy and may be more effective and safer than other disposal methods currently used, including landfilling, incinerating and deep-well injection, the media outlet reported.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, also referred to as PFAS, first came into use in the 1940s, and were widely used for their water-, grease- and stain-resistant properties. But the chemicals are not easily broken down in either the environment or human body, which is why they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”
Exposure to them is linked to increased risk of health problems and certain cancers.
The chemicals have been found with increasing frequency in drinking water across central Maine in the past couple years. PFAS contamination has been found in deer herds in the Fairfield area, prompting the state to issue a “do not eat” advisory. The state has issued similar advisories for more freshwater fish.
Much of the contamination is believed to be connected to sludge spread on farmlands.
The chemicals are widespread across the globe, even being found in places as remote as the summit of Mount Everest.
The new study was published Thursday in the journal Science and was done by researchers from Northwestern University, the University of California at Los Angeles and Tianjin University.