News PFAS - A pressing problem plaguing water

J-WAFS research offers possible solutions

Carolyn Blais & Maria Paula Acosta March 20, 2023

An infographic on PFAS with green, brown, and blue boxes and illustrations

Recent news stories have shed light on the issue of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS for short. PFAS are a group of man-made industrial chemicals known to be dangerous to humans. This World Water Day 2023, we explain more about PFAS and the risks involved to humans. 

PFAS are called "forever chemicals" because they can take 1,000 years to break down in nature. Unfortunately, many manufacturing processes are causing these chemicals to be discharged into the air and water every day. In fact, a peer reviewed study showed that as many as 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in their tap water. Products like non-stick cookware, fast food packaging, and stain-resistant fabric may all contain PFAS. This is a serious issue because there are many risks to humans who are exposed to PFAS, including developmental delays, thyroid and heart issues, and even some types of cancer. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed that almost no level of PFAS exposure is safe. 

Fortunately, steps are being taken to help solve the problem. On March 14, 2023, the EPA announced a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS chemicals. The regulation would establish legally enforceable levels of PFAS in drinking water. If fully implemented, the rule will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.

J-WAFS is also funding research to address PFAS. Ariel Furst of MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering, is developing methods for degrading these prevalent environmental pollutants. The proposed technology utilizes low-energy, scaffolded enzyme materials to degrade PFAS. 

PFAS in the news:

Read recent news stories about PFAS, how it is affecting drinking water, and what is being done in the U.S. to address this problem.