By Tricia Rodewald, Vice President of Marketing, REGENESIS®
History has shown that accidents and failed experiments often lead to new inventions and discoveries. Many everyday products used all over the world came from what were once seen as mistakes by their inventors. Examples include the implantable pacemaker, the microwave, ink-jet printer, Velcro and even saccharin found in many kitchens across the country. One of those inventions, Teflon, or polytetrafluoroethylene, was the compound its inventor accidentally discovered while trying to create a new refrigerator coolant. Now it’s famously known as the chemical power behind the non-stick, heat-resistant cookware that earned its creator, Dr. Roy J. Plunkett, an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Scotchgard, was another accidental discovery. In 1952 an accidental spill of a fluorochemical rubber on an assistant’s tennis shoe was the beginning to the invention of the product. After exhaustive attempts to remove the spill failed, 3M scientist Patsy Sherman changed her approach from removing the spill to using the spill as a protectant from spills. Sales of Scotchgard began in 1956, and in 1973 Sherman and co-inventor Samuel Smith received a patent for the formula.
How times have changed. In 1999, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began an investigation into the class of chemicals used in Scotchgard, after receiving information on the global distribution and toxicity of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), its “key ingredient”. In May of 2000, under US EPA pressure, 3M announced the production phase-out of PFOA, PFOS, and related products.
Today, as a result of the EPA’s pressure and mounting consumer concern, both Teflon and Scotchgard are no longer available due to the key ingredient PFOS. In addition, consumers have become increasingly aware and more educated about the products they use and the chemicals they are exposed to. Consumer organizations and environmental advocates have been diligently working to keep the public informed of the growing list of hazardous materials relating to PFOA and PFOS and the extended class of polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) contaminants to prevent further environmental and human harm.
This growing trend of environmental awareness is well-supported by the recent Madrid Statement created and signed by over 200 scientists from all over the world to equip the general public with information to encourage them to take proactive measures rather than reactively struggle against something most of them know very little about.
The EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has also been integral in creating a less toxic environment. In a project largely funded by this initiative, the River Raisin in Monroe, Michigan, will soon be delisted from “The Great Lakes Region’s Most Toxic List,” a notorious position that the River Raisin has held since 1987 due to contaminants being passed into it from a nearby automobile production site. Since 2012 polychlorinated biphenyls have begun to be cleaned out of the river, giving hope to the nearby residents of Monroe as well as surrounding areas.
As more discoveries are made regarding toxic chemicals, more solutions are being developed to combat widespread contamination. One of the more effective tools to analyze and detect contaminants involves the use of liquid chromatography (LC) and mass spectrometry (MS). While these analysis and detection methods are not new, the application of their use for this specific contaminant type is. LC-MS and LC-MS/MS instruments are now used to gather information on PFAS contaminants in the soil and water supplied through the ground and are able to effectively measure to the parts per trillion (ppt) concentrations required.
The March 2016 Emerging Contaminants Summit brought together researchers and scientists to share insights and findings from ongoing research on how to treat the issue of toxic substances. One of the techniques shared was the pump-and-treat technique, which can take anywhere from 10 to 100 years to resolve contaminated groundwater. This has been an effective long-term method, and now thanks to REGENESIS® there is also an immediate solution that can be used to treat on-site risks. In 2014 REGENESIS® launched PlumeStop® Liquid Activated Carbon. This is a form of in situ technology that immediately captures and contains contaminants to pull them out of groundwater supplies. PlumeStop injects an in situ barrier made up of colloidal-activated carbon, and just one application can last for years. It is a cost-effective and timely technique.
PlumeStop was received favorably among leading-edge environmentalists and researchers at the Emerging Contaminants Summit. It is also currently being used by engineering and environmental consulting firms in Europe as well as in the U.S.
As more discoveries are being made about PFOA and PFOS contaminants, more technological advancements from companies like REGENESIS® continue to be developed to bring hope and restoration to the world.