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Scientists Identify Bacteria That Can Break Down ‘Forever Chemicals’

Researchers have identified soil bacteria able to break down some PFAS chemicals, known as “forever chemicals” because they take decades to degrade naturally.

PFAS are used in nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foams, and have been linked with higher cholesterol, lower fertility, developmental delays in children, and a greater risk of developing kidney, prostate, or testicular cancer.

Scientists behind a new study discovered that two kinds of bacteria, Desulfovibrio aminophilus and Sporomusa sphaeroides, can break down chlorinated PFAS, a subgroup of PFAS used to repel water in packaging and electronics. The microbes are able to sever a key chemical bond in those PFAS, unraveling the compounds, rendering them harmless. The findings were published in the journal Nature Water.

Because these bacteria occur naturally in the ground, scientists proposed injecting nutrients into groundwater contaminated with PFAS to spur the bacteria to multiply. The microbes could also be safely introduced to contaminated areas where they are not currently found, scientists said.

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