Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found a new way to filter out toxic “forever chemicals” from water, the Washington Post reports.
A class of chemicals called PFAS has been used in a wide variety of products, including water-repelling, flame-repelling, and nonstick materials, the Post explains. However, PFAS have been linked to a variety of severe health issues, including fertility problems and cancer.
Once PFAS (sometimes called “forever chemicals”) are in the environment, they remain for years without breaking down, the Post reports. Existing methods to remove them from water are only partially effective and often create landfill waste full of PFAS that can end up back in the environment and cause further contamination.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have found a way to break down some PFAS with UV light, but the method is still in development.
The University of British Columbia team has another approach: filters. According to the Post, these researchers have developed a material that filters PFAS and other impurities from water. They also developed a way to break down the PFAS once they have been collected.
The Post reports that the filter material is made up of what looks like small beads with porous surfaces, which can capture unwanted chemicals, then be cleaned for reuse. Eventually, individual owners could send their used filters to a plant for recycling — and destruction of the PFAS — while large industrial users might be able to clean the filters on-site.
This research is timely since the EPA is proposing new standards for drinking water, the Post reports. Under the new rules, EPA would limit PFAS — some to four parts per trillion — in part because these chemicals have health effects at much lower concentrations than previously known.
Limiting PFAS in drinking water and developing the technology to filter them out will improve the lives of people across the U.S. by lowering the risk of the associated health problems. It’s also great for animals in the environment which are also vulnerable to PFAS. Changing standards may even force manufacturers to stop using these toxic materials — a major win for health and safety.
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