ST. PAUL -- A former professor has invented a filter that could help fix one of the state’s worst water-pollution problems.

“We need to stop cleaning water the way we have for 50 years,” said Abdennour Abbas, co-founder of Claros Technologies, a St. Paul company that makes filters to remove chemicals manufactured by 3M.

The Clarosafe brand filters are not available commercially, but Abbas hopes to eventually sell them to communities with perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in their drinking water. In the St. Paul area, that includes Woodbury, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and 11 other Washington County cities.

The cities were recently given $700 million to spend on water-cleaning projects, with money from a 2018 legal settlement with 3M. They currently clean their municipal water — to safe levels — using conventional activated-charcoal filters.

But Abbas says his filter is better. Abbas, a former professor of nanotechnology at the University of Minnesota, has developed products with nanoparticles — which are just 100 times larger than individual atoms.

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‘Close the loop on pollution’

The tiny particles can attract or repel pollution including mercury, PFCs and phosphorus.

Customers will be able to pop out the filters, like the oil filter on a car, and send them to facilities where the PFCs can be destroyed. The chemicals, which were marketed commercially and industrially in such products as Scotchgard and Teflon, are almost indestructible in nature, but Abbas’ method breaks apart the complex PFC molecules to render them harmless. That way, they can never be reintroduced into the environment.

“We close the loop on pollution,” said Abbas, who is the chief technology officer of the company.

The filter captures all types of PFCs, while charcoal filters catch only the two most worrisome types. He said Clarosafe lasts 30 times as long and needs one-quarter the space.

The Clarosafe filters are being tested by five global companies, four engineering firms, one U.S. city and a federal agency. If the filters work as expected, the company will begin selling them soon, Abbas said.

Virus masks, too

The company also developed the Log3 brand masks, which are being manufactured by the Airtex Group in Minneapolis. Abbas said the masks protect against viruses, including COVID.

CEO and co-founder Michelle Bellanca said the startup company has successfully passed the money-raising stage, gaining $5.5 million from investors.

She spent the last 10 years buying and managing small tech firms for 3M and is now launching a business of her own.

Bellanca said the company hopes to market the filters to cities for drinking water, industrial customers including 3M, and the U.S. military.

She said the company now has 10 employees, and should have 20 by the end of the year.