New ways to mop up toxic chemicals in fire retardant

August 5th, 2008 - 12:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 5 (IANS) Australian researchers have developed a new kit to find non degradable toxic chemicals used for decades as fire retardants and new techniques to clean them up. A team led by Megh Mallavarapu has developed a field test kit and two methods of cleaning up fluorine compounds in such retardants used by military and civilian fire fighters.

“These fluorinated compounds - known as PFOS - are highly persistent, both in humans and in the environment, more so even than DDT. They last for years and may have serious health and ecological consequences,” said Mallavarapu of University of South Australia.

“We have established they are toxic to various soil organisms, including worms and, once in water, there is a risk they may enter the food chain. It is suspected that they may be linked to cancer.

“Although the fire-fighting foams which use PFOS are being phased out, they are still in widespread use - and sites where they have been used or spilled remain contaminated for many years.

“The same substances have also been widely used in the furnishing and textile industries as coatings for hard-wearing fabrics and carpets,” he said.

The test kit determines the level of contamination at sites where PFOS compounds have long been in use. Previously, preliminary testing had to be done in the lab and was both time-consuming and expensive. The new kit allows testing for the presence of the contaminant to be carried out in the field, rapidly and cheaply.

Mallavarapu says that Australia’s development of a test kit and clean-up methods has potential for commercial sale around the world, as environmental agencies come to grips with the extent of pollution from the deadly, yet lifesaving, foams.

A provisional patent application has now been filed for the kit, and the researchers are seeking a commercial partner.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Sci-Tech |