New research, from scientists at Northwestern University, US claims to identify how to destroy forever chemicals-PFAS using low temperature and cheap products. Existing methods such as incineration to destroy PFAS require extremely high temperatures which is expensive.
PFAS are poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. There are about 4,500 of these fluorine-based compounds and found in nearly every habitat on earth, in products including food packaging, non-stick cookware, rain gear, adhesives, paper, paint and textile and apparel. PFASs are used in hundreds of everyday objects from frying pans to make-up for its resistance to water, oil and stains.
PAFS are usually found in low levels in rainwater globally, but if they infiltrate water or soil in high level, they might have serious health risks, including cancer and birth defects.
Historically, PFAS have been so difficult to destroy because they contain the strongest bonds in organic chemistry—carbon and fluoride bonds in abundance.
The research team, led by Brittany Trang, shows that sodium hydroxide- a common chemical used to make household soap or painkillers can break down the PFAS. In this process, they targeted a group of weakly charged oxygen atoms that sit at the end of the long tail of the carbon-fluorine bond. The process effectively “decapitates the head group from the tail” and the PFAS begins to dissociate, leaving only harmless elements.
According to Trang, the results are “exciting because of how simple — yet unrecognized — our solution is”.
These chemicals are widely used additives in textile manufacturing due to their unique chemical properties which can make textiles water-, stain- or heat-resistant. The PFASs are used in our daily articles such as t‑shirts, jeans, outdoor jackets, and shoes as a coating to make them water, stain, and heat resistant. This new method destroying PAFS in a low cost can be a breakthrough for textile and apparel industry.