Military and university researchers believe a newly developed system using sound waves could eventually help dispose of toxic firefighting material.
The Air Force currently maintains stockpiles — totaling more than 619,000 gallons — of firefighting foam that contains toxic perfluorinated compounds.
Researchers from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the University of Arizona deployed two different sound frequencies at the same time to target and break down the foam's harmful chemicals in a tiny sample.
The sound waves, officials said, created small transient bubbles that released shock waves. The resulting heat energy reduced the PFC molecular structure into its component parts — fluoride, sulfate, carbon dioxide and water.
Scientists equated the system to lithotripsy, which utilizes sound wave to destroy kidney stones.
"This technology could provide a safe method of disposal at a fraction of the cost of other potential methods of disposal, including incineration," said Adria Bodour, program manager of the AFCEC's Broad Agency Announcement program, which funded the research.
Officials ultimately hope that the technology will be able to neutralize about 2,100 gallons of foam at a time. The Air Force then hopes to partner with a manufacturer to develop a mobile system to address stockpiles located around the country.