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Toxic PFAS Are In Our Drinking Water, Here’s How Plasma Tech Could Remove It

PFAS are present in our soil, air, water, and bodies and we don’t know how to get rid of the human-made chemicals. But recent work promises a way to break down these compounds that most of us are exposed to every day, and the solution involves plasma.
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Human-made chemicals that were once considered the peak of our ingenuity have come back to haunt us in a big way.

These ‘zombie chemicals’ that never die are called Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. PFAS are a whole family of thousands of different compounds that are all based on the strongest bond in organic chemistry: the bond between carbon and fluorine.

PFAS have been used in tons of everyday products around the world since the 1940s as a barrier substance—these compounds are used as stain repellents, non-stick coating on cookware, and super effective firefighting foam. They’re also used in semiconductors, cellphones, vehicle manufacturing, really—PFAS are truly everywhere.

But the very trait that makes them so useful is also what makes them difficult to break down. So they just linger—in our groundwater, our soil, even our air...and while some of them may not be dangerous, we’re still not sure what their long-term effects are.

But a new project out of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center has developed something called the Enhanced Contact Plasma Reactor. The device uses argon gas to push the PFAS to the surface of a sample of contaminated water. It then uses electrodes on either side of the isolated PFAS to generate plasma, which is basically a big cloud of particles (positive ions and free electrons) that can knock other things apart.

This new plasma technology reduces the concentration of those two most dangerous PFAS to a safe level for drinking—and does it faster and cheaper than some of the other options out there.

Find out more about the Enhanced Contact Plasma Reactor and what this method could mean for the future of breaking down PFAS in this Elements.

#innovation #PFAS #manmade #chemicals #health #science #seeker #elements

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Suppressed Study: The EPA Underestimated Dangers of Widespread Chemicals
"The report describes health effects associated with exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease in humans. Notably, it describes how daily consumption of extremely low doses of the chemicals appeared to have an effect on rats and mice tested in labs — including delayed eye opening in newborns and lower body weight, as well as changes to brain activity and skeletal composition."

Blasting 'forever' chemicals out of water with a vortex of cold plasma
"To truly eliminate the chemicals, treatment needs to split apart the carbon-fluoride bond that is key to the compound's staying power. Different types of PFAS, which now number in the thousands, are comprised of different length carbon-fluoride chains. The primary goal of proposed decontamination methods is to break the chain into smaller pieces to render it inert. A secondary, and more challenging target, is completely removing the fluoride atoms from the compounds -- an achievement called defluorination."

Scientists Dig Into Hard Questions About The Fluorinated Pollutants Known As PFAS
"These are a very broad class of chemicals — probably 5,000 or more — and it seems like new ones are being produced all the time,"she says.[...]As a result, "we really don't know much about the great majority of these chemicals," says Birnbaum."


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