It’s one of the most familiar phrases in the English language

‘forever chemicals’ have a reputation for being indestructible, persistent, and just about everywhere – including many places where they should n’t be.

There are caveats to the process, but to many experts’ delight, it’s surprisingly simple for such a tough substance. It’s described in research published today in the journal Science.

Shira joudan, an environmental chemist and researcher at York University, is one of the authors of an accompanying perspective on the new research in science.

Pervasive chemicals are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as pfas. They were once believed to be harmless that they’ve gone into everything from fast food wrappers to non-stick pans.

Pfas get their molecular strength from the bond between carbon and fluorine within the chemical structure of all 9,000 or so different kinds of the chemical. To get rid of them, researchers are trying to figure out how to break those bonds.

The authors of the new study found that the molecules start to fall apart when heated to between 80 to 120 degrees Celsius. That does n’t take much more energy than boiling a pot of water.

The process breaks down the pfas into six different byproducts that experts tell the verge are relatively benign. Five of those are found in nature and might even be ingredients you’d see in toothpaste and face wash.

Pfas was found in more than 98 percent of Americans tested. It’s also found in water sources, fish, and soil across the US.

The EPA just issued health advisories in June on how much pfas it considers to be safe in drinking water. They’ve already sparked a legal challenge by industry.

High levels of pfas have been linked to a higher risk of certain kinds of cancer, liver damage, increased cholesterol, as well as reproductive health risks like higher blood pressure in pregnant women. Now there are similar concerns about replacement chemicals called GenX.

‘this is a mistake that we’ve made that will linger for generations already,’ says the Biodesign center for environmental health engineering at Arizona State University.

The new research published in science today is promising, but there’s still a long way to go from research to real-world action. The forever chemicals need to be filtered out of water, soil, or otherwise taken out of wherever they’ve wound up before they can go through this kind of chemical reaction.

A new process for degrading forever chemicals does n’t successfully destroy every kind of pfas. The new process attacks what are known as perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (pfcas).

Research gives other scientists a better understanding of how to tear apart pfas. The new science paper is being published by Brittany Trang, lead author of the research.

An assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside published a paper earlier this year on another potential method for destroying pfas. The study will be very helpful to teach or guide so many of the researchers to think about how they can further improve their system.

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