In New Jersey, Even Our Dirt Has Attitude
New Jerseyans are tough. We have to be, to bear up under the weight of the highest tax burden in the nation. The Jersey attitude could be traced to some of the longest commutes in the nation. It turns out even our dirt has attitude.
Princeton researchers may have discovered a solution to one of the most dangerous chemicals to leach into our drinking water, and it’s in a certain type of Jersey soil. Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been a known problem for some time. They were once used in everything from non-stick cookware to flame retardant fabrics. They are still found in some takeout containers and plastics. When dumped into landfills, the chemicals leach into the water. PFAS have ben linked in some studies to increased cancer rates.
PFAS are considered “forever chemicals” because they have among the toughest chemical bonds and are highly resistant to breakdown. As reported by WHYY, New Jersey has dozens of sites where drinking water tested for high levels of PFAS.
That’s where the Jersey dirt comes in. Writing in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology,” study co-authors Shan Huang and Peter Jaffé, detail how they discovered a microbe in a type of iron-rich wetlands soil that can smash the carbon-fluorine bonds that make PFAS so tough to degrade. Harvested from dirt in the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and synthesized in a Princeton lab, the bacterium known simply as A6 was able to remove 60 percent of harmful fluorine atoms over a 100-day period. It essentially rendered the PFAS harmless.
Huang and Jaffé are among a growing number of scientists who are looking for new technologies to eliminate the long term effects of exposure to PFAS chemicals. It appears they found the answer in Jersey dirt.