Read the full article by Jeannie Kever (University of Houston)
“The synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are found in soil and groundwater where they have accumulated, posing risks to human health ranging from respiratory problems to cancer.
New research from the University of Houston and Oregon State University published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters suggests why these ‘forever chemicals’ – so called because they can persist in the environment for decades – are so difficult to permanently remove and offers new avenues for better remediation practices.
The work focused on the interactions sparked when firefighters use firefighting foam, which contains PFAS, to combat fires involving jet fuel, diesel or other hydrocarbon-based fuels. Firefighter training sites are well-documented sources of PFAS pollution.
Konstantinos Kostarelos, a researcher with UH Energy and corresponding author for the work, said the interactions form a viscous water-in-oil microemulsion, which chemical analysis determined retains a high level of the PFAS.
Unlike many emulsions of oil and liquid, which separate into their component parts over time, these microemulsions – comprised of liquids from the firefighting foam and the hydrocarbon-based fuel – retain their composition, Kostarelos said. ‘It behaves like a separate phase: the water phase, oil phase and the microemulsion phase. And the microemulsion phase encapsulates these PFAS…”’