Scientists from The University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada have developed a new water filtration technology that is capable of permanently removing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, from drinking water.
Also known as forever chemicals, PFAS are believed to contaminate the drinking water consumed by more than 200 million Americans, which is most of the country. Worse, a 2020 study claimed that potentially risky levels of PFAS are present in all water supplies throughout the country.
Because PFAS are difficult to filter out of water, most Americans are likely drinking some level of them every single day without even knowing it. Prolonged consumption of these forever chemicals is linked to all sorts of serious health conditions, including cancer.
Called forever chemicals because they take hundreds of years or more to break down, PFAs are present in many consumer products, including sunscreens, food packaging, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies, and can eventually end up leaching into the environment, reported Nice News.
PFAs have been linked to increased risks of cancer, decreased fertility, and a reduced ability of the bodys immune system to fight infections, among other adverse health effects, per the Environmental Protection Agency.
Unique absorbing material that traps PFAS can be regenerated and reused, generating very little waste
For their research into a PFAS solution, at least for drinking water, UBC scientists, led by biological engineering professor Madjid Mohseni, utilized a unique absorbing material that is capable of trapping and holding all known PFAS that are present in the water supply.
After PFAS are captured from water using this unique absorbing material, they are then destroyed using special electrochemical and photochemical techniques, UBC announced in a news release.
Some existing filtration technologies such as activated carbon and ion exchange systems are capable of removing some PFAS, but not all. Mohseni and his teams development is the first known technique capable of removing all of them from drinking water.
Our adsorbing media captures up to 99 percent of PFAS particles and can also be regenerated and potentially reused, Mohseni explained. This means that when we scrub off the PFAS from these materials, we do not end up with more highly toxic solid waste that will be another major environmental challenge.
The technology is already being deployed at locations across British Columbia, particularly in areas that lack the money needed to ever be able to afford such technology in their local water systems.
Our adsorbing media are particularly beneficial for people living in smaller communities who lack resources to implement the most advanced and expensive solutions that could capture PFAS, Mohseni added. These can also be used in the form of decentralized and in-home water treatments.
The results we obtain from these real-world field studies will allow us to further optimize the technology and have it ready as products that municipalities, industry, and individuals can use to eliminate PFAS in their water.
It is always exciting when developments such as this materialize. Following the publishing of the aforementioned study on PFAS in 2020, the EPA here in the United States announced four drinking water health advisories, as well as an eventual $5 billion grant that will be used to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, especially in small or disadvantaged communities.
Back in March, the EPA also proposed a new spate of first-of-their-kind regulations on PFAS, which you can take a look at on the agencys website.