PFAS are manmade chemicals that are present nearly everywhere in the world. They are used to produce products that are resistant to things like heat, water, grease and even stains. Their useful nature is part of why they are ever present—huge numbers of products use them for these qualities.
Unfortunately, as awesome as PFAS is for product applications, they have a dark side. These chemicals don’t break down at all. They’ve even been given the nickname, “Forever chemicals,” because they never truly break down.
To make things worse, we end up eating them inadvertently because they’re present in our soil, animals such as fish that live in contaminated waters, and even our drinking water.
Why this is bad
If PFAS didn’t cause any symptoms, the fact that they are everywhere wouldn’t be a big problem. According to the EPA, there’s not a huge amount of research on this yet. We know that large amounts of exposure to these chemicals can cause loss of fertility, developmental delays in children, certain cancers, and many other problems.
It’s lower exposure levels that haven’t been thoroughly tested yet, but with forever chemicals building up all over the world and no way to neutralize them, clearly risk of high exposure is a problem.
Enter Mededovic Thagard
Mededovic Thagard and a Graduate Student decided to work on the problem of PFAS. Together, they developed an electrical discharge plasma process that effectively neutralizes PFAS. The technology can be used to treat up to tens of gallons per minute.
Government agencies and other companies have had her come out and treat their water. Her work can even be used on things like sludge or fertilizers, so if a farmer wants to keep their soils free of PFAS it can be used as a treatment before spreading waste on the fields.
What this Means
The EPA recently lowered the amount of PFAS that can be in drinking water and warned about its dangers, but there’s still no effective way to stop companies from polluting. Regularly testing drinking water and soil is still important.
This new technology means treating forever chemicals is possible—but the best tactic overall should really be to eliminate or reduce our use of them.