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Researchers find new way to deal with water contaminated with fire-fighting foam chemicals

Australian researchers may have found a solution to help deal with fire-fighting contamination water at Defence bases and other airports around the country.

The chemicals in the foams, per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), are today known as being ubiquitous in the environment and human bodies.

Investigations are underway into potential contamination of the substances in water and soil at several Defence bases around the country, due to historical fire-fighting practices.

But researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment have found a way to use electricity to create strong oxidising agents that strip PFAS molecules of electrons, breaking them down into smaller and safer compounds.

The treatment adapts a previous CRC CARE technology, called "matCARE", into a new substance called "pfasCARE", which could be used to help remediate PFAS-contamination wastewater and groundwater.

It could be part of a solution to wider chemical contamination globally, to treat "almost all organic contaminants", and help remediate some of the 160,000 contaminated sites CRC CARE estimates Australia already has.

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Lead researcher, University of Newcastle's Dr Cheng Fang, said previous "iterations" of the technology needed expensive materials to be effective, but the new substance used more common, and cheaper, lead peroxide, to cut production costs.

Dr Fang said that while authorities had often simply removed PFAS-contaminated material to store elsewhere, it did not solve the problem of 'what to do with the hazardous chemicals', which still needed to be properly treated.

CRC CARE managing director Dr Ravi Naidu said the new treatments could be used to treat wastewater or ground water, and there was more research underway to treat contaminated soil - one of the other key issues currently facing authorities around Australia.

"This is a world-first approach that will offer a complete clean-up solution for PFAS-contaminated sites, something that until now has not been available," he said.

Read more about the political lobbying behind the scenes of chemical regulation reforms underway in today's Canberra Times Forum.