Sticky Situation: What You Should Know About PFAS
Posted: August 29th, 2019Authors: Kristen A.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of more than 3,000 emerging contaminants that have been heavily utilized in a wide range of industries including military training, consumer product manufacturing, and emergency services. Although most of the releases have been caused through manufacturing and firefighting foams, many household items contain PFAS due to its non-stick nature. Rain coats, pots and pans, and many food packages contain small amounts of this contaminant. It is the non-stick quality of these chemicals that makes them so difficult to destroy. The carbon-fluoride bonds in PFAS make it extremely chemically and thermally stable, as well as hydro and lipophobic. The pathway of dispersion among these chemicals appear to be long-range in atmosphere and ocean transport. These compounds may pose a threat for adverse health effects given their suspected toxicity, mobility, and potential for bioaccumulation in proteins. However, scientists and engineers are still learning more about the toxicological information of PFAS.
Due to the emerging health concerns associated with PFAS, U.S. EPA has published a drinking water concentration guideline for PFAS of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The drinking water guideline, which importantly is not a regulatory standard, has the possibility to decrease as newer research becomes available. There is a wide range of activity occurring at the state level addressing PFAS. Some state agencies have developed their own guidelines and mandated water monitoring programs, while other state agencies continue to assess and seek more information about PFAS before taking formal action. All of this state agency activity is occurring as class action lawsuits have been filed against specific manufacturing facilities for possible PFAS water contamination. As state agency and legal activity ramps up, companies are evaluating the possible future implications of PFAS regulation and in some instances evaluating options for controlling and removing PFAS concentrations from wastewater streams.
During my senior year of college at Villanova, I was able to participate in research surrounding PFAS in ground water. Two classmates and I spent half of the year reading research articles and creating a technology matrix of available remediation strategies, and the second half of the year we conducted a case study surrounding a naval base and PFAS discharge. Granulated activated carbon (GAC) is the current accepted remediation technology for PFAS contaminated water, but not without complications. GAC is a separation technology and not a destruction method. This means that the carbon can adsorb PFAS, but not destroy the toxin. Collection technologies like this tend to be more expensive than destruction remediation due to added transportation costs of collected materials for destruction via incineration. Another remediation hinderance stems from natural organic matter. Most of the current research efforts use a mixture of PFAS in pure water. Contaminated water, soil, and air will contain different compounds that naturally occur in the environment, leading to a decrease in collection efficiency. Research surrounding PFAS chemistry has a long way to go before finding the optimal combination of collection and destruction methods.
Most PFAS attention thus far has focused on drinking water as a source of concern. In my time so far at ALL4, it has been interesting to learn about the possible air quality contribution to PFAS in ground water. PFAS emissions generated by facilities will exit stacks and be deposited onto surrounding bodies of water. While little is known about the extent of this possible air quality contribution, state agencies are attempting to learn more about it and could take air quality-related action in the future. At ALL4 we are taking our knowledge from research like the study that I described and combining it with a tremendous level of sampling and air emissions testing knowledge from some of our partner companies, the purpose of which is to identify how facilities might consider preparing for air permitting and sampling implications of PFAS in the future. Stay tuned for additional updates, and if you have PFAS related questions feel free to contact me at 610.933.5246 x176 or at KAune@all4inc.com.