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Rechargeable batteries cause PFAS pollution — study

By Ellie Borst | 07/08/2024 04:34 PM EDT

Researchers found a sparsely studied class of “forever chemicals” are released from lithium-ion batteries in landfills.

Discarded mobile phones fill a bin at the Out of Use company warehouse in Beringen, Belgium.

A new study raises concern about PFAS leaking in landfills from lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in discarded mobile phones pictured here. Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

Scientists are sounding the alarm on a little-studied class of “forever chemicals” used in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, raising concern over how electric vehicles, phones and other technologies are manufactured and discarded.

According to Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, bis-perfluoroalkyl sulfonimides, or bis-FASIs, mirror the same environmental persistence and ecotoxicity as some of the most notorious PFAS. And the researchers found that one of the ways these chemicals can spread across the environment is through lithium-ion batteries in landfill leachate.

Bis-FASIs, an umbrella term for similar compounds within the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances family, were detected in water, soil and sediment samples spanning Minnesota, Kentucky, Belgium and France. The study found the compounds did not break down in aggressive oxidation conditions, much like the most stubborn PFAS like PFOA, a widespread environmental contaminant widely established to cause multiple types of cancer.

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Jennifer Guelfo, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of environmental engineering at Texas Tech University, said they focused on bis-FASIs because they, along with other PFAS, were detected in 11 of the 17 lithium-ion batteries sampled. Those batteries came from a variety of products and manufacturers, including iPhones, electric vehicles, laptops and tablets.

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