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Innovating in Mexico

Mexican scientists design innovative materials to filter harmful substances in rainwater for human consumption

In the face of the world's water crisis, rainwater harvesting, which is then used for human consumption, has been seen as a viable option. However, scientists warn about the presence of substances in rainwater that could be harmful to humans. In response, Mexican scientists have developed innovative materials that help rainwater to filter and eliminate these substances.

The world is experiencing a water crisis. It is increasingly common to see scenes of empty dams and experience serious difficulties in supplying drinking water to the population.

This is why some urban areas have seen rainwater harvesting as a viable option. This water is stored and then used for human consumption.

However, scientific research has shown that rainwater contains substances that may be carcinogenic. These are substances known as PFAS (perfluoro- and polyfluoroalkylates), which are present in rainwater.

In response to this, a group of Mexican researchers from UNAM's Institute of Chemistry (IQ) are working on the design of materials capable of filtering PFASs from the vital liquid.

"At first glance, our development looks like a white powder, but it is actually composed of microscopic crystals designed to capture perfluoro and polyfluoroalkyl substances present in the liquid," said Dazaet Galicia Badillo, from the IQ's Department of Organic Chemistry.

Although these efforts are also being made in other parts of the world, Mexican scientists highlight the advances obtained in the design of these materials that, due to their porosity, become effective filters.

Dr. Alonso Acosta, who also works at IQ, goes even further. According to him, the aim is not only to filter these substances, but also to degrade them in situ, i.e., to eliminate them directly in the water.

However, Dr. Alonso Acosta warns, if this is not done properly, "we run the risk of being left with compounds with the same characteristics and shorter carbon chains".

To achieve a flawless process, the IQ scientists are exploring a strategy.

"The next thing is to add chemical additives and an organic solvent and heat them together, in order to remove the fluorine atoms from the PFASs. What is obtained in this way are aliphatic chains that can be reduced by bacteria to non-harmful elements."

It should be noted that recent research carried out to study Antarctica, the place in the world where there is the least human presence, has shown that even there the presence of PFASs was found.

Gregorio Rafael Benítez Peralta, from the Faculty of Medicine of the UNAM, explained that exposure to these elements favors a decrease in antibody response, high cholesterol, impaired infant and fetal growth, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroiditis, eclampsia and pre-eclampsia (the European Environment Agency adds overweight and infertility to this list).

To this extent, several researchers have expressed the need to rethink the integrated management of rainwater. Particularly what has to do with its human consumption. This, together with further progress in the development of materials that filter and eventually eliminate them.

Although research is still ongoing, the objective is to reduce the presence of these harmful substances in rainwater. According to IQ scientists, this is possible, and they are working on it on a daily basis.

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