You cannot taste or smell them in your tap water, but most municipalities in the United States now have drinking water supplies that are contaminated with trace levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals were widely used in the production of products such as Teflon because of their remarkable properties. Disposal of these products in landfills has resulted in PFAS appearing in landfill leachate, which greatly complicates treatment and discharge into waterways. PFAS exposure has also been shown to inhibit reproductive, developmental, immunological and excretory functions based on studies of lab animals. More recently, British researchers have linked PFAS to childhood obesity, and another study shows that PFAS reduce the efficacy of vaccines. Because of their chemical properties, PFAS substances have proven difficult to remove from water. Dr. Ezra Cates, Assistant Professor in EEES, is working on a solution. Dr. Cates was recently awarded a $496K Early Career grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a project entitled “The BOHP/UV Process for Destruction of PFAS in Leachate and Groundwater: Tandem Mechanistic Advancement and Pilot Demonstration.” Dr. Cates is working on a method to destroy PFAS compounds using ultraviolet light and a novel type of semiconductor catalyst. In preliminary work sponsored by funding from the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), Dr. Cates demonstrated that his system can destroy a wide range of PFAS compounds at a high rate. Funding from the EPA will allow his research group to move the technology closer to implementation. Congratulations to Dr. Cates on this major award.
Dr. Cates’ research on this topic has been featured on the Clemson newsstand.