Canadian researchers have developed a potentially revolutionary method of filtering and eliminating poly-fluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water. Limiting and removing PFAS has been a national focus and is particularly important because the substances are highly durable. They persist in the environment and the body for years and have been linked to infertility, thyroid problems, and several types of cancer.
Existing methods of removing PFAS from water have limitations, with activated carbon, for example, filtering long-chain PFAS but not effectively trapping the shorter-chain variants of the chemicals. Existing methods also typically create waste products that contain high concentrations of PFAS, which often end up in landfills or are incinerated, potentially causing further harm to the environment.
The new technology developed by the University of British Columbia involves tiny, porous plastic beads that can remove long- and short-chain chemicals at rates that match or exceed industry standards. These PFAS could be stripped away, making the beads potentially reusable or recyclable. The team has also engineered techniques to break the leftover PFAS down into harmless compounds. While the technology is promising, it has yet to be proven in real-world settings at scale, and the team is currently conducting pilot trials in British Columbia.
Experts agree that removing PFAS from water and breaking them down is only part of the solution to the PFAS problem. National and state regulations on PFAS are also necessary to reduce PFAS’s impact. However, the potential impact of this new technology is significant, and it could be part of a collective toolbox for addressing PFAS contamination of our water supplies.