Cleaning up the chemicals industry with new technology

RESEARCHERS at the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment and University of South Australia have developed a world-first technique for assessing and remediating the highly-persistent chemicals used for decades worldwide as fire retardants.

RESEARCHERS at the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment and University of South Australia have developed a world-first technique for assessing and remediating the highly-persistent chemicals used for decades worldwide as fire retardants.

A team led by Professor Megh Mallavarapu has developed a field test kit and two methods of cleaning up the fluorine compounds which form the basis of fire retardants commonly used by military and civilian fire fighters around the world.

“These fluorinated compounds — known as PFOS — are highly persistent, both in humans and in the environment, more so even than DDT.

“They last for years and may have serious health and ecological consequences,” Professor Mallavarapu said.

“We have established they are toxic to various soil organisms, including worms and, once in water, there is a risk they may enter the food chain. It is suspected that they may be linked to cancer.

“Although the fire-fighting foams which use PFOS are being gradually phased out, they are still in widespread use — and sites where they have been used or spilled remain contaminated for many years.

“The same substances have also been widely used in the furnishing and textile industries as coatings for hard-wearing fabrics and carpets”, he explained.

The test kit determines the level of contamination at sites where PFOS compounds have long been in use.

Previously, preliminary testing had to be done in the lab and was both time-consuming and expensive. The new kit allows testing for the presence of the contaminant to be carried out in the field, rapidly and cheaply.

Prof. Mallavarapu says that Australia’s development of a test kit and clean-up methods has potential for commercial sale around the world, as environmental agencies come to grips with the extent of pollution from the deadly, yet lifesaving, foams.

A provisional patent application has now been filed for the kit, and the CRC is seeking a commercial partner.

For more information visit the CRC website at: www.crccare.com