Seeking Natural Solutions for a Manmade Problem


UVA chemical engineering professor Bryan Berger is investigating the use of industrial hemp to rid the planet of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Bryan Berger is confronting one of the biggest environmental challenges of modern times: air, soil and water contamination caused by a group of toxic chemicals whose widespread use and human health consequences are only now coming to light globally.

In his lab at the University of Virginia School of Engineering, Berger, an associate professor of chemical engineering, and his research team are developing novel ways to rid the planet of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are used in a huge number of consumer products but linked to serious health issues. Berger’s group is investigating a very unlikely source, Cannabis sativa, or industrial hemp, a fibrous workhorse known for its multitude of beneficial uses including in textiles, antimicrobials and health food.

Berger believes industrial hemp may also provide the greenest way of abating a problem that’s been growing for decades.

In the 1940s, chemical engineers combined a long string of carbon atoms together with fluorine to create a super substance with a chemical bond that is one of the strongest known in organic chemistry today, nearly impervious to natural degradation. Scientists have yet to determine a half-life; once it’s in the environment, it stays there.

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