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CMU Chemical Promises To Rid 99 Percent Of BPA From Wastewater

Mark Lennihan
Green Toys, a San Francisco-based company, makes its toy tugboats from recycled plastic milk containers that are free of BPA, PVC and phthalates.

Terry Collins will tell you BPA is a scary compound. It's a chemical that's used to manufacture plastics, and more than 6 billion pounds of it are produced every year.

BPA can be found in everything from store receipts to DVDs to water bottles, and tons of it wind up in landfills every year.

Collins, a chemist at Carnegie Mellon University, has been looking for years at how BPA affects people. It inspired him and his research team to develop a fast-acting and inexpensive chemical solution that is 99 percent effective at neutralizing BPA in water.

The chemical uses catalysts called TAML activators, which combine with hydrogen peroxide to break down BPA chemicals in water without posing a health threat. It's designed to be used on a mass scale, Collins said, especially for wastewater filtration.

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a known endocrine disrupter.

"They get in and fiddle with the signals that control what cells become," Collins said. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, which can affect how the brain and nervous system develop. The chemical has also been linked to decreased male fertility.

BPA production isn't regulated by the U.S. government, and Collins said living a plastic-free life won't guarantee separation from it. It's leached from landfills by water, and BPA-contaminated waste from manufacturing plants isn't always treated before it's released into the environment.

"This BPA is going to be dissolving off landfills for centuries," Collins said. "That water is constantly pouring these surrogate hormones into wherever the heck it goes."

Collins said traces of BPA have been found in water, soil and vegetables all over the world. But his research team hopes their solution will be able to reverse how much BPA is flooded into the environment every year. 

The chemical has, so far, been tested only in a laboratory environment.