PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemical pollutants that threaten human health and ecosystem sustainability. They are used in a wide range of applications including food wrappers and packaging, dental floss, firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, textiles, and electronics. Over decades, these manufactured chemicals have leached into our soil, air, and water. Chemical bonds in PFAS molecules are some of the strongest known, so the substances do not degrade easily in the environment.
Studies have shown that at certain levels, PFAS chemicals can be harmful to humans and wildlife and have been associated with a wide variety of health problems.
Currently, the primary way to dispose of PFAS chemicals is to burn them, which is an expensive multistep process. Even trace levels are toxic, so when they occur in water in low amounts, they need to be concentrated in order to be destroyed.
Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a novel bioremediation technology for cleaning up PFAS. It uses a plant-derived material to absorb the PFAS which is then eliminated by microbial fungi that literally eat the forever chemicals.
The sustainable plant material serves as a framework to adsorb the PFAS. That material containing the adsorbed PFAS serves as food for the fungus. Once the fungus has eaten it, the PFAS is gone.
The EPA has established a nationwide program to monitor the occurrence and levels of PFAS in public water systems and is considering adding PFAS threshold levels to drinking water standards. If this happens, the technology developed at Texas A&M may become an essential part of municipal water systems.
Texas A&M AgriLife develops new bioremediation material to clean up ‘forever chemicals’
Photo, posted August 10, 2013, courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.