A New Device to Monitor 'Forever Chemicals' in Water

Monday, August 10, 2020 - 10:12
Chemicals

A civil engineering researcher from University of Arkansas will develop a new monitoring method for so-called “forever chemicals” in water on military installations.

According to the university's official website, Julian Fairey, associate professor of civil engineering, has been awarded $755,000 from the Department of Defense to develop a device that can monitor the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in water with higher accuracy and lower costs than traditional methods.

This will help the department prioritize cleanup efforts in areas where firefighting foams containing these substances have been used over the last half-century, Fairey said.

Instead of having employees pull water samples, which is relatively time-consuming and expensive, Fairey plans to develop a device the size of a hockey puck that can passively sample the PFAS in water over several weeks to months and create an accurate picture of the level of contamination. The sampler contains different engineered layers to control the uptake rate of PFAS and allow these substances to bind for later analysis in a laboratory.

Passive sampling is not a new technique, but Fairey’s project centers on tackling specific challenges related to PFAS contaminants. “This builds on existing methods by many research groups over the past 30 years,” he said. “The application of this technique to PFAS has many challenges that require reengineering various elements of existing passive samplers.”

The device could also be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment processes for removing PFAS from water at contaminated sites, Fairey said.

“We are also developing a passive sampling device for contaminants in drinking water distribution systems, known as disinfection byproducts or DBPs, some of which are known human carcinogens,” he said. “Such a passive sampling device could facilitate more accurate DBP exposure assessments while reducing the associated labor and analytical costs.”

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