2.45 million for research into solving PFAS at Utrecht Science Park

Photo: DUB
Photo: DUB

Utrecht University’s PFAS Remediation Living Lab recently received funding of 2.45 million from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water to research a PFAS-contaminated field at Utrecht University and other locations. Worldwide, large tracts of land are contaminated with PFAS. Instead of the classic "dig and dump" method, the university wants to explore the possibilities of sustainable remediation.

Together with the municipality of Utrecht, the university submitted an application to further research into sustainable methods to remove and destroy PFAS. If new sustainable remediation methods are found, it would have a major global impact on dealing with these ’forever chemicals’.

Utrecht University is using its own campus as a ’living lab’, in other words a testing ground for sustainable development. In this case, the PFAS-contaminated field in the Utrecht Science Park is the living lab. Researchers and master’s students from different research groups and faculties are jointly investigating the possibilities of sustainable remediation of this field. Through transdisciplinary collaborations we are better able to tackle complex sustainability challenges, such as the issues surrounding PFAS.

"There is a great need for sustainable remediation of chemicals in soil. As a municipality, we are therefore happy to cooperate with the investigation into PFAS in Utrecht. As the competent authority, we also ensure that there is more time to clean up the contamination and thus make the research possible. The contaminated site, a former fire-fighting exercise site, offers the ideal opportunity to carry out this research. This land is also suitable for this because the University itself owns the land and there are no plans for construction or development," said Eva Oosters councillor for the Environment & Emission-free Transport in Utrecht.

Connected researchers

"PFAS moves through all environmental compartments and accumulates in humans, plants and animals. To solve problems, connection between different research disciplines is necessary," says Johan van Leeuwen, researcher and scientific coordinator of the PFAS Living Lab at UU. Researchers from various faculties are therefore tackling the PFAS issue from different angles. Alraune Zech and Johan van Leeuwen, part of the Faculty of Geosciences, are working on techniques for removing PFAS from soil and water. George Kowalchuk, from the Faculty of Science, is trying to find microorganisms that can break down PFAS and is evaluating which ones are most suitable to experiment with at the UU site. Stefanie Lutz, affiliated with the Copernicus Institute, studies how PFAS move in water and investigates possible biodegradation methods for PFAS. And Chiel Jonker, from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, is trying to remove PFAS from water and destroy the chemicals. Together, they hope to find a definitive solution to remove PFAS from our environment.

The SPUK programme has been made available to all municipalities for promoting health, sport and exercise, prevention and strengthening the social base. On the horizon is a healthy generation in 2040. Thanks to SPUK funding from the ministry and a contribution from UU, the municipality, the university and IRAS can get started on this ambitious project.

Part of this living lab: researchers and students from the Institute for Risk Assessment (IRAS), Geo-Hydrology and Water Quality Management, Biology, the UU Facility Service Centre and the Municipality of Utrecht. This living lab was created in collaboration with Utrecht University Living Labs (UULabs) and is supported by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

PFAS

Perand Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS9) are man-made substances that are very difficult to break down. That is why they are referred to as "forever chemicals." PFAS are used in many products as they contain water, grease, and dirt repellent properties. PFAS are a health risk for animals, humankind and the environment.