Lithium-ion batteries, a source of alarming contamination with eternal pollutants

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Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere: in our phones, our computers, and even our electric cars. Without them, our ultra-connected lives would probably not exist. Unfortunately, according to a new study, this significant and constantly increasing use of lithium-ion batteries would have a considerably negative impact on the environment. The cause is contamination by so-called eternal pollutants, which only disappear over a considerable period of time.

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Pollutants used daily

These eternal pollutants, or PFASS (for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are artificial compounds based on carbon and fluorine synthesized by man from hydrocarbons. Due to their non-stick, waterproofing, anti-stain and other properties, PFASS have attracted the attention of manufacturers, who have started using them in a phenomenal number of everyday objects, including batteries.

In lithium-ion batteries, a subclass of PFASS, aka bis-FASIs, is prevalent. According to Jennifer Guelfo, a researcher at Texas Tech University, and her colleagues, these bis-FASIs are contaminating the environment in proportions that were previously unsuspected. In a new study, her team shows that these chemicals have environmental persistence and ecotoxicity comparable to those of compounds infamous for their harmfulness, such as PFOAused for example in the synthesis of Teflon, or the GenXhis replacement.

Extensive pollution

To conduct the study, the researchers sampled air, water, snow, soil and sediment in Minnesota, Kentucky, Belgium and France near factories that use bis-FASIs. They found that the concentration of bis-FASIs there was 1,000 times higher than the maximum level set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for similar perennial pollutants, such as PFAS. The scientists also proved that this bis-FASI pollution is not confined to the vicinity of factories that produce lithium-ion batteries, but wherever these batteries are abandoned.

Toxicity testing has demonstrated that concentrations of bis-FASIs similar to those found at sampling sites can alter the behavior and fundamental energy metabolic processes of aquatic organisms. The toxicity of bis-FASI has not yet been studied in humans, but other, more widely-scrutinized PFASs are known to be linked to cancer and infertility.

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