Insights

PFAS 2020: An Update on "Forever Chemicals"

Since we introduced Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) to our clients in 2018, these “forever chemicals” have remained the subject of headlines, including topics such as regulation, action plans, sampling and treatment. Here are the PFAS highlights that you should know about:

Federal Legislation Proposed 

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 proposes to set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), provide funding for utilities that need enhanced treatment due to PFAS and classify some PFAS as hazardous substances. The bill has passed the House of Representatives but not yet the Senate, and it faces some opposition.

Those who oppose the bill cite the “hazardous” classification as the reason. This change would affect consumer goods, such as food wrappers or cookware. It would also affect wastewater treatment plants because PFAS partition to biosolids. Therefore, the biosolid disposal options would have to change drastically. Finally, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can already enforce regulations without legislation and currently has an action plan in place.

Action at the National and State Level

The EPA’s action plan includes setting MCLs and monitoring drinking water, cleanup, research, enforcement and risk communications. Several states have followed suit to create their own action plans, such as Michigan and Ohio. 

The state-level action plans include sampling public water systems for select PFAS and taking action according to the level of PFAS detected. Michigan has finished sampling, and Ohio has delayed sampling due to COVID-19.

Treatment Method Discoveries

As of now, there are several standard treatment methods for PFAS, including reverse osmosis, ion exchange and granular activated carbon. Recently, it was discovered that the commonly-used granular activated carbon method might emit PFAS into the air during regeneration. This claim is being tested and reviewed.

Plasma is the latest treatment method to be evaluated. Unlike the treatment methods above that simply remove PFAS, plasma degrades or destroys it. This treatment method’s lab test results are being analyzed to determine if it is possible to implement in the field. A field test of the plasma reactor has been piloted at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH.

Sampling Lessons Learned

B&N has worked on several PFAS-related projects, which have led to lessons learned and helped formulate our standard operating procedure. Our procedures draw on those set by the National Groundwater Association and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Each PFAS sampling process requires acute attention to detail to ensure that our surroundings do not contaminate samples. To prevent contamination and the false positive measurements that it causes, we make sure that our clothes are made and laundered with all-natural materials and that all personal protective equipment is decontaminated and replaced often.

We also are sure to use PFAS-free equipment when sampling. For example, a well that we sampled had a pump with a Teflon impeller, which contains PFAS. To ensure our sampling results were accurate, we removed this pump and used a PFAS-free bladder pump instead.

Looking Forward

PFAS remains a topic of conversation as state and federal agencies are actively working to identify PFAS levels and determine the best treatment options. Additionally, businesses that use materials that traditionally contained PFAS are working to determine contamination levels and equipment rental companies are now specifying which products are PFAS-free.

B&N works to remain at the forefront of PFAS research and discoveries. Our PFAS expert, Brian Yates, PE, is an environmental engineer and industry-recognized PFAS expert. He has been published in numerous journals and presented at conferences throughout the country. If you have any questions about PFAS, please contact Brian Yates, PE.

Brian Yates, PE, Environmental Engineer
Brian Yates, PE
Environmental Engineer