New technology from Technion removes toxins from drinking water

Exposure to synthetic organo-fluorine chemical compounds is known to cause long-term health issues including cancer, birth defects, and heart disease.

 Water pitcher (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Water pitcher
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers have developed a novel technology for removing dangerous pollutants from drinking water. The research was published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.

The innovation quickly removes synthetic organo-fluorine chemical compounds (PFAS), a pollutant also known as "forever chemicals" because of their environmental persistence, remaining intact underground for a long time and eventually contaminating drinking water. 

Exposure to PFAS is known to cause long-term health issues including cancer, birth defects, and heart disease. In Israel, exposure to the toxins is monitored and last summer the extraction of potable water in the Krayiot region was stopped following the discovery of a high PFAS concentration.

Although removing these substances from drinking water can be done with relatively simple and inexpensive adsorption techniques, older methods only transfer the pollutants from the water to the adsorbent material – which requires additional purification steps to get rid of the toxic adsorbed substances.

Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering at Technion University. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering at Technion University. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition, these methods are not selective: They can also remove substances that are beneficial to human health. There are two new and promising solutions: Using oxidation processes and using targeted polymers that efficiently adsorb the polluting substances. Yet, until now these technologies have not brought satisfactory results.

The new research examined the possibility of combining these two methods – separating the pollutants with special polymers, and then using advanced oxidation processes to eliminate them. The findings indicate that proper planning leads to high efficiency under a wide range of acidity (pH) and salinity. Technion’s method shows the removal of seven types of PFAS – even when all of them are found in the same unit of fluid – at a level of efficiency that approaches 90%, and it does so within just minutes.