Read the full article by Chloe Johnson (Inside Climate News)
“How do you destroy pollution so stubborn, it’s nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’?
That’s a question researchers and companies across the country are eager to answer, as regulation tightens on PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and the chemicals’ producers face a mountain of lawsuits.
The chemicals are in fast-food wrappers, firefighting foams, nonstick cookware and dental floss. They don’t break down readily in the environment, they easily flow with water, and research has linked them to health effects like immune and fertility problems and some cancers.
Getting rid of the harmful chemicals is ‘a multi-billion-dollar elephant in front of us,’ said Corey Theriault, a technical expert focused on PFAS treatment at the engineering and consulting firm Arcadis.
PFAS have been destroyed via incineration, but there are questions about how thoroughly burning works, and the Defense Department halted the practice of burning these chemicals last year.
Everyone from municipal water providers to Fortune-100 companies have shown interest in the technologies, Theriault said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is offering a contract to handle, destroy and replace fire-fighting foam that is rich in PFAS, worth some $800 million, according to the government’s solicitation document.
PFAS became so popular in consumer goods because of the durable carbon-fluorine bond that makes up the links in ‘short-chain’ and ‘long-chain’ versions of the chemicals. These bonds help repel stains, water and grease, and cut off oxygen to dangerous blazes.
But that chemical bond is also exceedingly hard to break.
Many methods being tested right now to eliminate PFAS have often been used in other chemical cleanups. Engineers are trying to burst the molecules in modified pressure cookers; split them with UV light and energized additives; rupture the PFAS chains with electricity, or strip apart atoms with cold plasma, a charged and reactive gas.
No technology is yet being deployed on a large scale, but Theriault said those furthest along in development could be ready in the next six to 18 months.
However, none of these technologies will directly treat a contaminated water source. First, the water would have to be filtered so that the PFAS ends up in a concentrate that is more cost-effective to treat, because there are more of the chemicals in each gallon. The state of Minnesota already uses a machine that sucks PFAS out of contaminated groundwater by repeatedly stirring the groundwater into a foam, where the chemicals tend to collect.
‘The cost per volume of liquid to treat for these destructive approaches is much higher,’ said Timothy Strathmann, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He is developing a destruction method called hydrothermal alkaline treatment or HALT, that he described as ‘a pressure cooker on steroids.’
The need for a concentrated chemical soup to experiment on has led at least a dozen companies to pitch their products to Minnesota, because the state is already creating it with its filtering machine, said Drew Tarara, a geologist and program manager with AECOM.
‘It does feel like everybody’s trying to get their foot in the door,’ Tarara said.”…