University of British Columbia heralds breakthrough treatment for ‘forever chemicals’

The University of British Columbia (UBC) claims to have made a significant breakthrough in removing so-called ‘forever chemicals’.

These chemicals – per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – are found in a wide variety of consumer products and firefighting foams, and are widely used for water-proofing and stain-proofing, among many other things. There are growing allegations, especially in the US, that they cause bodily injury and are in our water supply, resulting in an expanding amount of litigation:

Now UBC claims that a pioneering water treatment technology targets and neutralises PFAS, providing a promising solution to the global challenge of PFAS contamination. This cutting-edge approach, it adds, has the potential to transform water treatment methods, ensuring cleaner and safer water sources for generations to come.

According to UBC, traditional water treatment methods have proven ineffective at removing PFAS from water sources, as these chemicals are extremely stable and resistant to breaking down. 

UBC’s new method uses a process called electrochemical oxidation to break down PFAS, rendering them harmless. The technique involves applying an electric current to the water, which generates highly reactive hydroxyl radicals that effectively oxidise and neutralise PFAS molecules.

UBC says its water treatment solution has shown promising results in lab tests, successfully removing up to 99.9% of PFAS from water samples. The researchers are now working on scaling up the technology for real-world applications, with the hope of making it available for widespread use in the near future.

Dr. Mohammad Arjmand, an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Engineering, emphasised the significance of this breakthrough, stating that the technology is “a thousand times better” than conventional filtration methods such as activated carbon filters. He further claimed that the UBC-developed method is more efficient, faster, and cost-effective than existing solutions for PFAS removal.

In addition to addressing PFAS contamination, UBC also claims that its water treatment technology could also help eliminate other harmful contaminants from water sources, such as pharmaceutical residues and microplastics, paving the way for a cleaner and healthier future.