Tackling ‘Forever Chemicals’: New Sustainable Method for Water Treatment

Posing a concerning danger to the environment, PFAS is a ‘forever chemical’ that today, has been found everywhere, in air, water, plants, animals, and—at the top of the food chain—humans as well. A breakthrough research to overcome the issue come from a team of researchers from Saarland University. They have developed a brand-new electrochemical method that is capable of successfully removing PFAS compounds from water.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl substances, are extremely versatile compounds. It is because of these fluorine-containing organic compounds that raindrops simply slip off of outdoor clothing. They are essential components of fire-extinguisher foams, the protective gear used by firemen, and the greaseproof coating used on paper food packaging. Since PFAS was first introduced in the 1940s, the range of items and environments in which they are employed has exploded.

These extremely persistent chemicals accumulate in the natural environment, endangering both human health and the environment because they are so inert and have no natural pathways for decomposition. It’s still unclear exactly how big of a health concern these substances present. Initial research on lab animals has indicated that PFAS may harm reproductive health. It is obvious that these artificial substances have no business in the natural world, much less in living things. Therefore, it makes sense to attempt and identify ways to lower the amounts of PFAS pollution in the environment.

However, PFAS remediation is challenging and intricate, and the procedures used might be harmful to the environment and the climate. The PFAS must also be identified before they may be eliminated. The fact that only minimal amounts of PFAS are needed for a substantial effect (such as the ultra-thin coatings in food packaging) does not make detection any simpler.

PFAS has traditionally been eliminated from water through filtration utilizing specialized membranes or less expensive activated carbon adsorbents. However, retrieving the PFAS from these filter systems so that they can be combusted or subjected to harsh chemical conditions in order to be completely destroyed.

At least, that is how things have been thus far. A new electrochemical technique that can effectively remove PFAS chemicals from water and then release them once more for destruction has been developed by a team of researchers under the direction of Markus Gallei, Professor of Polymer Chemistry at Saarland University.

Metal-containing polymers, also known as metallocenes, play a key part in the study team’s strategy. The scientists discovered that even tiny amounts of PFAS molecules can be removed from water using electrodes functionalized with ferrocene or, even more successfully, a cobaltocene. Markus Gallei stated that The metallocenes can be exchanged 1,000 times, unlike the activated carbon filter, which must be discarded after it becomes saturated with PFAS molecules.


Saarland University. 2023. PyhsOrg; Chemists develop sustainable method to remove ‘forever chemicals’ from water. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-chemists-sustainable-method-chemicals.html#google_vignette

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