Tom Bruton is a scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. He joined Stateside to discuss what makes PFAS chemicals so difficult to clean up.
The biggest problem is that PFAS chemicals do not break down naturally in the environment.
“Becuse PFAS are so persistent, a lot of the tools and tricks that engineers have for cleaning up water contamination don’t work for as well for PFAS,” Bruton said.
Bruton has researched one method that does work for PFAS remediation: in-situ chemical oxidation.
“It’s a little bit like adding bleach to your laundry. Bleach is an oxidant chemical. You add it to the laundry, it reacts with the stains in your clothes, the stains go away, the bleach doesn’t leave anything too nasty around. In-situ chemical oxidation is a similar process, where we introduce an oxidant underground, and hopefully detoxify the contaminants,” he explained.
Unfortunately, because PFAS compounds are so stable, the treatment is not entirely effective. This method also requires a large amount of chemicals to be pumped into the ground.
The most common way to treat PFAS-contaminated water is the “pump and treat method.” After water is pumped out of the ground, it is run through a PFAS-removing filter, then returned to the same spot. This, Bruton said, would be a costly and time-intensive solution. Addressing all the PFAS water contamination across Michigan would likely take decades and cost billions of dollars.
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