Getting Rid of “Forever Chemicals” in Water
Most of the time, when there is a discussion about water-related problems such as shortages, I would sit down and focus on how I could save more water by limiting the unnecessary usage of it. However, now I realize, I was completely forgetting about another aspect of preserving water. Yes, we do not have an unlimited water resource, however, water also follows a cycle. It follows a cycle by merging with oceans, lakes, and underground water; it evaporates from the surface and rejoins it later as rain, snow, or hail and is drunk or used by animals, humans, plants, etc. That is why releasing wastes into the water is always concerning. The chemicals, wastes, and all the pollution that water was exposed to, and was unable to be separated from water, will join the cycle and disperse all around. With that, contaminating it will eventually affect every living and non-living that utilizes water.
After really internalizing what kinds of damages water pollution can do, I cannot help but wonder: what if we cannot filter polluted water and it contaminates even more?
These concerns become a reality because of Forever Chemicals. These chemicals – called PFAS – do not naturally occur, and, as we can understand by the name (see: “Forever” Chemicals), they are not easily gotten rid of. This title encompasses thousands of chemicals that are strangely persistent. And again, as the name suggests, they seldom degrade and tend to end up in water, food, etc.(“Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).”). They “repel both grease and water”, making them suitable to be used in food packaging. However, it is not limited to just that. They can also be found in cosmetics, textiles, electronics, and more. Yet, these are just the most popular of what we use in our daily lives, and these chemicals are used all around the globe in various sectors.
Although they are used widespread, this makes their daunting effects more prominent. They can harm immune, reproductive, and hormonal systems, as well as increase the chances of cancer development (“Pfas – the 'Forever Chemicals'.”) They are made up of carbon and fluorine atoms forming a bond. This bond is extremely resistant. These chemicals have been around for decades and are able to accumulate in tissues, which can cause certain diseases as well as cancer (EPA).
We use multiple products belonging to these sectors and are exposed to them on a daily basis. This exposure can even be caused by eating food and drinking water – since it is incredibly challenging to filter out these chemicals from them. And it is not long until our lives are so intertwined with Forever Chemicals.
However, besides all the negatives, hopeful news have emerged on this topic. Recently, researchers were able to break down several types of Forever Chemicals, and they were able to do that in low temperatures without creating damaging byproducts (Science Daily). This allows large bodies of water to be processed simultaneously. Because of that, water can be more easily separated from chemicals in water treatment plants in order to acquire drinking water.
The method works by heating PFAS with DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide) and lye in water. The two parts of these chemicals— carbon-fluoride bonds and oxygen atoms —are divided by making the oxygen atoms react with other molecules. This causes a chain reaction that forms relatively harmless byproducts; however, this only works in a number of PFAS (UCLA Health).
Overall, water is a necessity we all need to continue our lives. Therefore, preserving water requires an utmost priority from all of us. Therefore, if we want to continue drinking water free from chemicals, we have to be more careful about what we throw into it.
EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas.
“Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc/index.cfm.
“Pfas – the 'Forever Chemicals'.” CHEM Trust, 24 May 2021, https://chemtrust.org/pfas/.
“Simple Method Destroys Dangerous 'Forever Chemicals,' Making Water Safe.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220818163721.htm.
“Simple method destroys dangerous ‘forever chemicals,’ making water safe.” UCLA Health, https://www.uclahealth.org/simple-method-destroys-dangerous-forever-chemicals-making-water-safe.
Image: Roger McLassus, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons.