WT: Dr. Mohseni, please introduce yourself to our viewers and tell us about your areas of expertise.
Mohseni: I am a Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia. My area of research and expertise is in Water Quality and Treatment, with a special focus on the development of technologies for the removal/treatment of emerging chemical contaminants.
In addition, I am also the Scientific Director of RESEAU Centre and Mobilizing Innovation, a non-profit organization, based at UBC, focusing on the development of sustainable solutions to improve water health for Indigenous and rural communities.
WT: In a recent paper published in March 2023 you and your team have created something unique in water treatment.
Mohseni: This publication is one of several which present our work/research conducted over the past few years, on addressing the issue of PFAS in water, and ways to remove and fully destroy them. For a deeper understanding your viewers can find them here, here, here and here.
WT: What aspect of drinking water contamination were you focusing on and why is this problem a critical concern?
Mohseni: Over the years, we have been focusing on issues related to the presence of micropollutants and chemicals of emerging concern in drinking water. These include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, cyanotoxins, and per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
All these are present in drinking water in low concentrations. Conventional treatment systems that are commonly used in municipalities are not able to remove them.
Another area focus has been the quality of drinking water in Indigenous and rural communities, that are frequently on Boil Water Advisories
For those communities, the issue has mostly been related to the microbial quality of water and the risk associated with the presence of pathogens (due to the absence and/or ineffective disinfection).
WT: PFAS are no longer manufactured in Canada—why are they still making their way into the environment?
Mohseni: Yes, PFAS are no longer manufactured in Canada. However, there are many consumer and industrial products that contain PFAS, and the public has been and is exposed to PFAS through various means.
Another point to consider is that although the production of long-chain PFAS has been banned since 2015, the industry has replaced those with short-chain PFAS, which are equally harmful.
Since the short-chain PFAS are a newer product there is less health data available for consideration.
Drinking water is the most common route of exposure. That is why more than 98% of Canadians have PFAS in their blood.
Also, because of past (and present use of PFAS) many of our water sources have been contaminated by PFAS.
PFAS are also introduced to the environment, through wastewater effluent, again because PFAS are in everyday common products and find their way into the sewer systems.
WT: You have invented a means of removing forever chemicals. Please describe the technology. Once removed how are the chemicals destroyed?
Mohseni: The first step involves capturing PFAS using novel adsorbents that are highly effective at removing most PFAS, including long-chain and short-chain PFAS.
Our adsorbents have a remarkably high capacity—more than anything comparable on the market. Another feature is they can be regenerated. That is, once saturated, we can regenerate these adsorbents and remove the PFAS in a concentrated solution, which in turn can be sent to a secondary process for complete degradation and destruction of PFAS.
The regenerated adsorbents can be potentially re-used or at least disposed of safely without the concern of having the PFAS leach out to the environment.
WT: There are currently a few methods available to remove PFAS, why is your method superior?
Mohseni: The current adsorbents do not have a high capacity and cannot remove the wide range of PFAS that are present in water. Once saturated, they cannot be regenerated and recycled safely because they become toxic solid waste. The methods of disposing of them will eventually bring PFAS back to the environment.
Currently, the available technologies for fully destroying PFAS are extremely expensive making them unfeasible for utilities or industries to apply.
WT: Now that your lab has created a cost-effective and much-needed solution for drinking water and the environment...what is next?
Mohseni: Our technology has the potential to be applied in both remote and smaller communities, as well as in large municipalities.
Adsorbing media are particularly beneficial for people living in smaller communities who lack the resources to implement the most advanced and expensive solutions that could capture PFAS. These can also be used in the form of decentralized and in-home water treatments. We are hoping to eventually deploy the process in drinking water treatment sites that are facing the issue of PFAS contamination.
We are in the process of demonstrating the efficacy of our technology in multiple sites within Canada (and potentially in the US). Also, we look forward to expanding our partnership with municipalities and industries that are affected by PFAS. These allow us to not only assess and demonstrate the applicability/efficacy of our technology but also optimize it for various applications.
We expect to move forward with full-scale implementation of the solution-- hopefully in the next several months.
WT: What message would you like to leave with our viewers?
Mohseni: The challenge associated with the presence of PFAS in our water supplies (as well as in our consumer products) is so huge that it takes a concerted effort by all to overcome this challenge.
For us to move forward, more resources and closer/sustained partnerships with industry, government and municipalities are required. In addition, government policies and regulations should not only target addressing the presence of PFAS in water.
There ought to be requirements for industry to stop the production and use of PFAS altogether.