Skip to content. Skip to main navigation.

Spring 2018

Inquiry Magazine Archive


Chemical Clean Up

Choi developing method to eliminate harmful chemical from the environment 

Formula on a chalkboard

Because they are excellent at repelling both water and oil, perfluorated chemicals (PFCs) are widely used in applications such as nonstick cookware, clothes, furniture, and fire retardants. However, these chemicals hardly decompose after being introduced into the environment, significantly contaminating water resources.

Civil engineering Associate Professor Hyeok Choi will use a Water Environment and Reuse Foundation grant to prove a concept that would allow scientists to efficiently transform PFCs such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) into chemicals that could be broken down easily and with as little expense as possible.

"I'm looking for a practical, strategic method to eliminate PFOS from the environment,"

Dr. Choi says. "This is very important because if I'm successful, this method can be applied to many other persistent chemicals, making our drinking water safer."

PFCs have been the target of many recent federal regulations in the U.S. The EPA reported in 2016 that PFCs found in the drinking water supplies of 6 million residents exceeded health risk levels. But no effective technologies have emerged to eliminate the health risks posed by PFCs.

Choi is using a process known as defluorination, which replaces fluorine molecules with hydrogen and others, weakening the chemical bonds and making the substance vulnerable to decomposition. After employing a chemical reduction technique to remove fluorine, he then applies a chemical oxidization process to accelerate the decomposition of PFOS. This process would eventually allow water and health authorities, water utilities, and industrial companies to deal with PFC-contaminated water more efficiently.

More articles from this issue

UT Arlington - Office of Research