The paper is featured on the cover of Environmental Science & Technology. Source: ES&TThe paper is featured on the cover of Environmental Science & Technology. Source: ES&TResearch at UMass Amherst has the potential to address pollutants that are difficult to degrade, including a common flame-retardant chemical that a dynamic, two-step process rendered nontoxic.

The process, which uses a special material known as sulfidated nanoscale zerovalent iron (S-nZVI), broke down tetrabromobisohenol A (TBBPA) to harmless carbon dioxide and water.

"This is the first research about this dynamic, oxic/anoxic process," said Jun Wu, a visiting Ph.D. student at the university’s Stockbridge College of Agriculture and lead author of the paper published in Environmental Science & Technology. "Usually, reduction or oxidation alone is used to remove TBBPA, facilitated by S-nZVI. We combined reduction and oxidation together to degrade it completely."

Wu added that the key point regarding the application of the process is that it is both technically simple and environmentally friendly. It has the potential to be applied not only to TBBPA but also to other organic refractory compounds that are difficult to degrade.

As one of the most common flame retardants to hinder combustion and slow the spread of fire, TBBPA is added to manufactured materials including computer circuit boards and other electrical devices, papers, textiles and plastics. It has been widely detected in the environment, as well as in animals and human milk and plasma. It has also been associated with a variety of health concerns, including cancer and hormone disruption.

Wu began the research at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. At UMass Amherst, he works in the pioneering lab of Baoshan Xing, professor of environmental and soil chemistry, corresponding author of the new study and one of the world's most highly cited researchers.

Supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Hatch Program, the research breaks new ground in efforts to develop safe and effective processes to remediate groundwater and contaminated soil.