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New treatment for PFAS water pollution a “major breakthrough”

Australian scientists have made a major breakthrough in the fight against PFAS water pollution across the country.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) has developed a world-first technique for eliminating the toxic chemicals that are most prominently linked to firefighting foam contamination – per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

CRC CARE CEO and Managing Director Professor Ravi Naidu said the technology could potentially help remediate thousands of PFAS contaminated sites across Australia.

“This is a major breakthrough; this technology cleans water to the extent where you could even drink that water,” he said.

“That means that it's going to play a very big part in the sustainability of water, the remediation of groundwater and the remediation of soil.”

The new technique, pfasCARE, uses electricity to generate extremely strong oxidising agents.

These substances strip PFAS molecules of electrons, allowing them to be broken down into smaller, much safer components.

“We end up with the products carbon dioxide and fluoride, which can be easily managed,” said Naidu.

Currently, granular activated carbon (GAC) and anion exchange techniques are commonly used for remediation.

However, those existing approaches did not solve the problem once and for all, said Senior Research Fellow Dr Cheng Fang from the University of Newcastle's Global Centre for Environmental Remediation.

“While removal can be effective, it does not solve the problem of what to do with the hazardous chemicals, which require subsequent treatment to ensure they are not gradually released again,” he said.

“Previous iterations of this technology, which is subject to a patent application, have required expensive materials such as diamonds to be effective. With pfasCARE, we have been able use lead peroxide – a common, inexpensive industrial material to dramatically cut the cost of production.”

The new CRC CARE technique is intended to be used in conjunction with an earlier centre invention, matCARE, which uses a clay sorbent to immobilise and isolate PFAS.

By using matCARE followed by pfasCARE, Naidu said contaminated water could be treated satisfactorily.

CRC CARE is hosting an International PFAS Conference – CleanUp 2017 – in September.

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