UMaine scientists researching solution to PFAS pollution

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 7:00 PM EDT
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ORONO, Maine (WABI) - By now, the dangers of toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS in our water supply are well-known.

What’s unknown is how to solve this national environmental issue.

One University of Maine science lab is working toward a solution with far-reaching impacts.

The PFAS in this UMaine science lab are here by design.

Dr. Onur Apul’s team of PhD students is using them in research that could lead to a massive breakthrough.

“The goal of this research project is to create a sustainable and safe solution to PFAS pollution,” said Apul, assistant professor of environmental engineering.

Apul’s team received $250,000 from the National Science Foundation for these studies, but PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. So, how do you destroy the indestructible?

“Nothing is really indestructible. There is a chemical bond energy that forms these chemicals. So, if you provide enough energy, you should be able to destroy them,” Apul said.

The solution to a PFAS-free world might just be coming from a lab near you.

“This is what you have in your domestic filters. It looks like French Press coffee. Basically, we load it with PFAS and then we regenerate in a tubular furnace, and eventually we look at the gases that are produced. What’s the byproduct? Is there anything more concerning, do we need to filter out the gases? Then we see if these liners are able to stop PFAS at the landfill soil interface,” Apul said.

It’s a remarkable undertaking, and Apul notes that it’s the Pine Tree State leading the way.

“PFAS is a nationwide crisis. And Maine is taking a very progressive role in understanding the level of pollution and how we can address it. We are at the forefront of PFAS destruction,” Apul said.

The work begins in January with a three- to four-year timeline. But Apul is willing to work a little overtime.

“Although there is an end date to the project, I don’t see an end date to PFAS research because it’s such an important topic, and we are making breakthroughs every day. I think this is going to be a long career long research experience for me,” Apul said.