The chemical structure for Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is bound so tightly that scientists have struggled to find a method for breaking it apart
PFAS are found in a wide variety of everyday items including cosmetics and personal care products
A potential way to properly break down so-called ‘forever chemicals’ has been discovered for the first time, according to new research from Northwestern University.
Known as Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), they are a group of around 6000 chemicals that do not naturally exist in the environment.
PFAS are found in a wide variety of everyday items including cosmetics, shampoo and cleaning products.
They have been dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ as the chemical compounds are tightly bound together, meaning they do not naturally degrade.
The breakthrough study has found that a mixture of sodium hydroxide, water and an organic solvent could be the key to destroying the dangerous chemicals.
When heated, the formula is able to degrade the tightly packed fluoride ions found within PFAS by around 78 to 100% within 24 hours.
Sodium hydroxide is a relatively cheap chemical which is often used in the creation of soaps.
The cosmetics industry has used PFAS chemicals in order to increase product durability, impart water resistance, increase skin absorption and improve the appearance of skin’s texture.
However, the material can end up contaminating groundwater for decades when released into the environment.
Exposure to the chemicals is harmful to human health, and can lead to thyroid disease, liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced immune responses and several cancers.
A study by the University of Notre Dame in 2021 found dozens of cosmetics sold in the US and Canada contained high levels of ‘toxic’ PFAS.
Mascaras, concealers, foundations, lipsticks and powders were all found to contain the cancer-causing chemicals.
It comes after a crackdown on the use of PFAS took place in Washington DC, US, earlier this year, as the country moved to ban their use in cosmetics.
Senate Bill 5703 would forbid the sale and distribution of cosmetics with added PFAS – a known carcinogen that can cause breast, liver and ovarian cancers.
In a Senate vote, representatives passed the bill 26-21, pushing the legislation into the hands of the House.