Combatting PFAS Contamination with Surface Active Foam Fractionation Technology


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In the realm of environmental concerns, few issues loom as ominously as the pervasive threat of PFAS contamination. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS –  have stealthily infiltrated our everyday lives, present in products ranging from non-stick cookware to firefighting foams.

These chemicals were first synthesized in the late 1930s, and their large-scale commercialization began soon afterward. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that new research started revealing the potential health and environmental risks of these forever chemicals. 

Last year, it was found that beyond their link to cancer development, PFAS chemicals could also contribute to cancer metastasis. In other words, the chemicals can spur the cancer cells inside our bodies into action, resulting in cancer cell migration.

The persistence of PFAS chemicals has sparked a global call to arms for innovative solutions. Join us as we explore the solutions that have emerged to respond to this crisis in recent years.

PFAS Contamination – Everyday Products Contributing to It

PFAS contamination, a pervasive environmental issue, stems from the presence of PFAS  chemicals in our surroundings. The durability of these man-made chemicals, while beneficial for product longevity, spells trouble for the environment. They simply don’t break down, earning them the moniker “forever chemicals.”

The implications of PFAS contamination deeply impact both human health and the environment. Exposure to PFAS links to a raft of health issues. 

Cancer stands out as a significant risk, with certain PFAS types increasing the incidence of kidney and testicular cancer. These chemicals disrupt our hormonal balance, interfering with our endocrine systems and affecting our reproductive health.

Our immune system also suffers; PFAS exposure weakens it, reducing the effectiveness of vaccines and increasing susceptibility to infections. Since PFAS can hinder fetal growth and development, pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to their contamination.

On the environmental front, PFAS contamination is equally alarming. These persistent chemicals accumulate in the tissues of animals, causing bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain. This process harms individual species and threatens entire ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and disrupting natural processes. 

As PFAS infiltrate soil, water, and wildlife, they create a grim picture of environmental degradation that demands urgent attention and innovative solutions. 

Despite all of their cons, these forever chemicals have become ingrained in our daily lifestyle. A number of products that we use on a daily basis – some even necessary for our survival – contain PFAS. 

Non-stick Cookware

Non-stick cookware has revolutionized cooking by making it easier to prepare meals without the hassle of food sticking to the surface. However, hassle-free food doesn’t necessarily have to be safe. 

These coatings contain PFAS, which provide the non-stick properties that chefs and home cooks appreciate. However, this convenience comes at a cost. When non-stick cookware is heated to high temperatures, PFAS can break down and release toxic fumes.

While the threat of PFOA was removed from Teflon-based cookware in 2013, more research is needed to understand the extent of PFAS’s presence in them. Unless we reach an absolute conclusion about non-stick cookware’s safety, it’s best to minimize their usage in our kitchens.  

Water-resistant Clothing

From rain jackets to upholstery, water-repellent fabrics are integral to our daily lives. They protect us against the rain and snow, extending the life of our belongings. These fabrics owe their water-resistant properties to PFAS treatments, which create a barrier that prevents water and stains from penetrating the material.

However, the same properties that make these fabrics so effective also make PFAS a persistent environmental contaminant. When washed, these fabrics can shed tiny PFAS-laden particles that enter waterways and ultimately accumulate in the environment. 

Food Packaging Materials

Who doesn’t enjoy the convenience of fast food and ready-to-eat meals? The grease-resistant packaging of these items uses PFAS, ensuring the food remains appetizing and the packaging intact. 

However, this benefit comes with a hidden risk. PFAS in food packaging can migrate into the food, especially when exposed to heat. Over time, cumulative exposure to PFAS from various sources can lead to adverse health effects. 

Cosmetic Products

Who would’ve thought the stubborn PFAS chemicals would find their way into your skincare and beauty regime as well? You must think twice. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits that research on the presence of PFAS chemicals in cosmetic products is limited, affecting our knowledge about it. When added to cosmetics and skincare, these chemicals can make your skin and hair appear smoother and shinier. 

Here’s a list of known sources of PFAS in your touch-up kit:

  • Moisturizers
  • Nail paint and enamels
  • Cleansers
  • Rouges
  • Blushers
  • Lipsticks
  • Eyeshadows 

Firefighting Foam 

The aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) firefighting foams are ideal for combating high-intensity fires, especially those involving flammable liquids. These PFAS-containing foams have been used by firefighting departments and military personnel since the 1970s, as TorHoerman Law observes. 

However, AFFF contains high levels of PFAS, which have been linked to significant environmental contamination. The use of these foams near airports, military bases, and industrial sites has leas a beacon of hoped to widespread PFAS pollution in soil and groundwater. Its exposure has also been found to be the source of a wide range of health issues, including several types of cancer. 

The vulnerability of firefighters to AFFF exposure and – as an effect – health concerns has led to many of them filing an AFFF foam lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers of the AFFF foam – 3M – failed to warn users of its potential health hazards.

What is Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF) Technology? A Closer Look 

In April, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added nine more PFAS chemicals to the list of hazardous constituents. These chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorononanoic acid, perfluorodecanoic acid, hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid, and five others. 

What does this recent proposal of change in the Resource Conservation and Regulatory Act regulations tell you? The threat of PFAS might run deeper than we had initially anticipated. Such devastating news calls for immediate action towards mitigating PFAS contamination. 

Amidst all the threats, the Surface Active Foam Fractionation (SAFF) technology emerges as a beacon of hope.

The joint efforts of European researchers and Envytech Solutions – a Swedish company – have led to the development of this technique. It uses tiny water bubbles that are pumped to treat the contaminated water into a tank by blowing in air at the bottom. 

Professor Francesco Dondero, an ecotoxicologist, claims that the bubbles have an enormous affinity to the PFAS. By being pumped into contaminated water, they can increase its concentration to levels exceeding a million times at the surface. The demonstration of this technology is currently ongoing and will conclude in September 2024.

Once the technology completes its demonstration stage, it could be a game-changer in treating PFAS contamination in water. Such an innovation will take us forward in controlling the hazardous contamination by leaps and bounds. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Have PFAS chemicals contaminated milk?

Yes. Certain milk samples collected from Manchester, New Hampshire, have tested positive for PFAS contamination. According to the dairy farm owners, these chemicals might’ve contaminated the water the cows drink, thereby reaching their bodies. They could also contaminate the fertilizers used in the pasture that their cows graze on. 

Is it possible to test my drinking water for PFAS?

Yes, it is. PFAS testing kits are available at public health and utility departments across the US; you can get one in the nearest facility from your house. The average time taken in these tests is 10 days, so you must be patient.

Can PFAS cause skin problems? 

Yes, exposure to PFAS can cause skin issues. This generally happens through the use of PFAS-containing cosmetic products that we’ve talked about above. Dermal PFAS exposure -often absorbed through the skin – can lead to irritation, allergic reactions, and even immunosuppressive effects in rare cases. 

To summarize, tackling PFAS contamination is important to safeguard both our health and the environment. Whether it’s opting for PFAS-free products or supporting advancements in remediation technologies, every step we take counts toward reducing our collective impact.