Jessica Kustas, left, and Andre Benally work with a mass spectrometer at Sandia National Laboratories while trying to pair up technologies to go beyond just absorbing PFAS. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Sandia scientists achieve breakthrough in tackling PFAS contamination

June 5, 2023 8:01 am Published by

A team at Sandia National Laboratories is developing materials to tackle what has become one of the biggest problems in the world: human exposure to a group of chemicals known as PFAS through contaminated water and other products. Sandia is now investing more money to take their research to the next level.

“It’s in the news constantly. It seems every day we hear of another product that is contaminated. We saw sparkling water with PFAS, toilet paper with PFAS, so it’s not just a groundwater problem; it’s popping up everywhere,” said Andrew Knight, a chemist at Sandia who has a passion for solving PFAS contamination. “It has become clear to the world it is a growing problem. It is a national security issue of a large scale.”

What are PFAS?

PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer products that resist heat, oil, stains and water. They are also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment but can move through soil and water and build up in wildlife and humans.

While human health effects from low levels of PFAS have yet to be defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists have documented 12 types of PFAS in people tested and four types of PFAS in every human tested, revealing widespread exposure in the U.S. population. Tests on laboratory animals using high levels of PFAS exposure have shown an increased risk of cancer, liver damage and compromised immune systems.

PFAS are found in products including Teflon, fast food packaging, pesticides, eye makeup, cleaning products, dental floss and shampoo. However, one of the biggest contaminations identified in recent years is the groundwater under U.S. Air Force bases, which is a result of the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam.

Creating a unique solution

Knight has been working with Ryan Davis, who specializes in materials science, to create a filter that could not only eliminate PFAS in water on a large scale but also in a household setting. “This could be something that could be deployed for major remediations or could be something that could be kept under your sink. If the initial treatment is already done, what does come through the water treatment facility through your faucet can be filtered by you, prior to end use,” Knight said.

Read the complete news release.

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