PFAS are commonly found in various household items like non-stick frying pans because manufacturers like how well they hold up to oil, water and stains. File Photo by Joe Gough/Shutterstock
Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Scientists say they have found a way to eliminate, for the first time, cancer causing "forever chemicals" in everyday items like food packaging, non-stick frying pans, and women's makeup.
Researchers at Northwestern University reported the results of a study in the Journal Science, saying they used cheap household products to make the breakthrough, in which scientists eliminated the substances, known as PFAS, by using low heat in conjunction with sodium hydroxide found in soaps and painkillers.
Product manufacturers have used the chemicals for decades because of how well they hold up to oil, water and stains.
PFAS are also found in various products like adhesives, wet gear, pharmaceutical containers, papers, and paints. As consumers have become more aware, alternative products have cropped up in the marketplace with non-PFAS packaging and containers like those used for drinking water.
Long-term exposure to PFAS have long been linked to a higher risk of developing cancer and birth defects, but research continues into how much exposure could actually lead to the most serious health concerns.
Through the years, various methods to destroy the substances, like high temperature incineration, have failed and allowed the problem to worsen globally. PFAs are so widespread that off-gassing has led to their presence in the atmosphere, as shown by rainwater that's tested positive for low-level amounts.
"There is an association between exposure and adverse outcomes in every major organ system in the human body," Harvard University chemistry professor Elsie Sunderland said according to BBC News.
More than 4,500 fluourine compounds are found in poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, which carry serious health risks as the human body cannot easily eliminate them due to their strong carbon bonds.
During their research, scientists at Northwestern identified a weak link -- a chain of oxygen atoms at the tail end of carbon-fluorine bonds, which was essentially an open gate for the new process that "decapitated the head group from the tail," said lead researcher Brittany Trang.
"This could be a breakthrough if it is low cost," Camilla Alexander-White, policy leader with the Royal Society of Chemistry, said according to BBC News.