New research has found that Australian native rushes Phragmites australis, Juncus kraussii, and Baumea articulata could remove up to 53% of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) contaminants from the environment. Conducted by researchers at the University of South Australia, the study found that the once-popular chemicals could be removed from the environment cheaply by using these plants.
The three weeds identified as having the potential to remediate PFAS were put to a test in contaminated waters. It was found that the common reed Phragmites australis removed up to 53% of legacy PFAS contaminants from the surface water. These findings provide the much-needed solution that could help remove chemicals from the environment.
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PFAS chemicals were once hailed as revolutionary for their uses. They are used on nonstick pans, firefighting foam, and plenty of other products. Even today, some manufacturers still use PFAS in products, despite having been found to be harmful to the environment and human health.
The US Environmental Protection Agency warns that PFAS could lead to a range of medical complications. Some of the medical issues associated with the chemicals include a decline in fertility, delayed development in children, a high risk of obesity, and weakened immune systems.
Dr. John Awad, one of the researchers, says that the new findings could go a long way in alleviating said risks. By using these plants, PFAS could be significantly sucked out of nature, leading to a cleaner environment for healthy living.
“PFAS are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down, instead accumulating in the environment and in our bodies where they can cause adverse health effects,”Awad said. “In Australia, PFAS concerns often relate to the use of firefighting foam, especially legacy firefighting foam, which accumulates in the surface water of our waterways.”
According to Awad, the reeds were found to be the most effective in removing PFAs from contaminated stormwater. “Our research tested the effectiveness of Australian rushes to remove PFAS chemicals from stormwater, finding that Phragmites australis was the most effective at absorbing chemicals through its roots and shoots,” Awad said.
The study was done in partnership with the CSIRO and the University of Western Australia. The researchers used constructed floating wetlands where plants were grown hydroponically. According to Awad, the approach offers a better solution for the natural remediation of contaminated water bodies.
“Constructed floating wetlands can be readily installed into existing urban environments, such as holding reservoirs and retention basins, making them highly maneuverable and adaptable to local waterways,” Awad said.
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