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Developing and Testing Innovative Water Treatment Technology for PFAS

A class of chemicals known as PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—poses a unique threat to public health. Since the 1940s, these chemicals have been used in a wide variety of products, including nonstick coatings, food packages, textiles, and firefighting foams. PFAS can persist for decades in the environment; when they get into the water supply, they accumulate in the bodies of plants, animals, and people who consume them. PFASs are linked to cancer and are believed to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems.

We are part of RTI International’s team of environmental engineers and chemists who are working to solve the public health threat. The U.S. Department of Defense owns more than 300 sites around the country where, since the 1970s, troops being trained to fight fires used PFAS-based firefighting foam. An increasing number of bases throughout the country are detecting PFAS in groundwater supplies, and this creates a problem for humans. While removal of the PFAS from water can be accomplished with membrane separation techniques, there is currently no reliable in situ water treatment method for destroying these chemicals.

In mid-2018, RTI and Yale University began working on a new method for destroying PFAS molecules. This work was funded by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). The process uses a combination of ultraviolet light and a single atom catalyst (SAC) developed by researchers at Yale University.

To date, we have demonstrated that this method is effective at breaking down perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), one of the more commonly studied PFAS chemicals. In addition to potential use at the hundreds of affected DoD sites, this technology could also be used to destroy PFAS in public and private drinking water supplies.

Additional information on this technology is available on the SERDP website.

 

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