Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a pollutant found in some plastics that is a known xenoestrogen, which means it exhibits estrogen-mimicking, hormone-like properties. For this reason, consuming it carries significant health concerns. But due to the fact that it was considered safe for decades before its toxic properties were identified, BPA can be found just about everywhere — in soil, sediments, sewage sludge, air, and perhaps most alarmingly, drinking water.
There's good news, however. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania have developed a chemical catalyst that can effectively scrub the BPA out of your water in as little time as 30 minutes, reports New Scientist. It's safe, effective (removing 99 percent of BPA out of treated water), and perhaps most important of all, it's cheap.
“We’ve solved a billion-dollar research problem,” said Terrence Collins, one of the key researchers that developed the method. “This treatment can be done by anyone, anywhere, on any quantity of water.”
Big problem, simple solution
The method is surprisingly simple, involving nothing more than a group of catalysts called TAML activators, along with hydrogen peroxide. The TAML activators essentially work just like enzymes do by speeding up chemical reactions. Researchers found that when TAMLs are combined with hydrogen peroxide in pH-neutral water, it causes the BPA to stick together and form clumps that can be easily filtered out.
To ensure that the cure isn't worse (or as bad) as the problem, Collins and colleagues grew yeast and zebrafish embryos in their TAML activator-treated water and found no ill effects. What's more, just a tad of the chemical catalyst is needed to purify a voluminous amount of water.
“You can treat tens of thousands of tons of water with 1 kilogram of the catalyst,” explained Collins.
A ubiquitous problem
The importance of this method cannot be understated. BPA is one of the highest volume of chemicals produced worldwide, and although it is being phased out of production in many parts of the world, it has been ubiquitous, found in everything from water bottles to DVDs, credit card receipts, dental fillings, canned food, and more. You could make the case that it's one of the toughest pollutants on the planet, so finding such a simple, unproblematic treatment method could eventually make it possible to remove BPA from our environment almost entirely.
That's the long game. First off, researchers need to continue to study the chemical catalyst to ensure its safety, but things look promising.
The study was published in the journal Green Chemistry.