(Washington) Scientists announced Thursday that they have discovered a method to destroy certain pollutants, dubbed “perpetual” because of their extreme resistance and toxicity, which are present in many everyday items and can cause serious health problems.
Posted at 4:38 p.m.
The technique, called relatively low temperature and general reactions, was developed by chemists in the United States and China, whose work has been published in the journal. ScienceProvides a possible solution to a persistent problem for the environment, livestock and humans.
Developed in the 1940s, PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl) degrade very slowly and are found in packaging, shampoos, non-stick pans and even make-up.
Over time, they have spread throughout our environment: water, soil, air, groundwater, lakes and rivers.
A Swedish study last week showed that rainwater anywhere on Earth is undrinkable due to high levels of PFAS.
According to some studies, exposure to PFAS can have effects on fertility and fetal development. It can also lead to obesity or certain cancers (prostate, kidney and testicles) and high cholesterol levels.
Current methods for degrading these pollutants require powerful treatments such as very high temperature incineration or ultrasonic irradiation.
Their near-indestructibility is linked to the long carbon-fluorine bonds that make them among the strongest in organic chemistry.
However, the researchers were able to identify a weakness in some types of PFAS: at one end of their molecule, a group of oxygen atoms can be targeted by a solvent and a common reagent at an average temperature of 80 to 120 degrees Celsius.
When this happens, “the entire molecule collapses into a cascade of complex reactions,” says William Digtel 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 can be used to improve the method.
The current study focuses on 10 PFASs, including GenX, a major pollutant that contaminated the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.
But there are more than 12,000 “permanent chemicals,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“There are other types (PFAS) that do not have a single Achilles heel, but each has its own weak point,” underlines William Dickel. “If we can identify it, we know how to activate it to destroy it. »