Research and innovation, Sustainability
- 1 minute
PFAS are a group of substances that have been used since the first half of the 1900s for their water-repellent, grease and dirt-repellent properties: thousands of chemicals used in the production of fire-fighting foams, textiles, impregnation products, paints, paper coatings, plastics, electronics, heat pumps and ski waxes. For some years now they have come under the lens of science and regulators. In the face of their usefulness, in fact, the peculiar resistance to natural degradation processes means that PFASs can accumulate in the environment and in the body, through the diet, with health consequences in the case of high concentration.
The presence of PFASs in groundwater was confirmed by a study conducted by the National Groundwater Observation (NAQUA), which found concentrations of PFASs in half of the NAQUA measurement stations. These are concentrations below the limit values, nevertheless Switzerland is expected to align with the stricter limits expected in the rest of Europe by 2026.
The results of this study have led to increasing public attention to PFAS-related issues, while science has long been analyzing health impacts and studying compounds that can replace the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. In the latter vein is the decade-long work of the Polymeric Engineering Laboratory at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Technology (MEMTi). The team led by Professor Andrea Castrovinci has applied the layer-by-layer technique to treat the surface of tissues without the use of PFAS and with very low use of synthetic products.
This is not the only project with reduced environmental impact developed in this laboratory: in collaboration with the company Geomagworld, researchers from the Department of Innovative Technologies created a new material produced from wood processing waste and recycled plastic.The Institute of Systems and Technologies for Sustainable Production (ISTePS) was also involved in the project, which measured the reduction in environmental impact of this new product.
The two projects were featured in the Feb. 4 episode of Il Giardino di Albert. The scientific dissemination program was dedicated to PFAS.