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Milwaukee scientist may have found a natural way to get rid of synthetic chemicals in your water

In this report, we look at how people are trying to find solutions to get rid of the so-called "forever chemicals" in our water.
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Posted at 6:17 PM, Aug 11, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- To Two America's where we show you the America you know, or might not.

In this report, we look at how people are trying to find solutions to get rid of the so-called "forever chemicals" in our water.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found chemicals like Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, more commonly known as PFAS, do not break down in our environment.

The NIEHS government website section on PFAS adds, "One report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans."

One Milwaukee scientist may have found a natural way to get rid of the synthetic chemicals found in water around the world.

PFAS are so small, you cannot see it without a microscope, and over decades, chemist Junjie Niu with UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences says the pollutant has seeped into our groundwater.

"So a water well, some people use wells, it can penetrate it. After 50 years, it penetrates it and then you drink it," Niu said.

The EPA requires your drinking water to not have PFAS over a certain level, but it is still unavoidable.

Niu adds, "It can cause diseases like cancer or some other very rare diseases, especially for a baby."

The man-made chemical was commonly used for decades in stain-resistant, waterproof, non-stick products and foam used by firefighters to smother aircraft fires.

Niu says PFAS levels in pond water collected near Mitchell International Airport are high.

He warns, "It does not degrade in nature, even after hundreds of years it exists in the soil and in the water."

Over the past year, Niu says his team narrowed down the lab-specific bacteria found in our soil that can eat up PFAS like dinner, adding to be exact he identified, "three different types of bacteria."

The other location where they collected soil is right outside a scrap yard in the Harbor District right next to the Kinnickinnic River and Lake Michigan. They found in their lab experiments using those three isolated bacterias that they could remove about 70 percent of PFA's in two weeks.

As for which bacterias are working in his lab, he will not say just yet. He wants to see if this works outside first. If it does, he plans to share it with everyone so that one day, this forever chemical found all over the world will disappear.

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