PFAS: An Emerging Contaminant

Within the last decade USEPA has identified several emerging contaminants (e.g. perchlorates and 1,4-dioxane) and reassessed contaminant levels of several other hazardous compounds and analytes (e.g. mercury, arsenic and trichloroethylene vapors). This has resulted in many responsible parties having to revisit hazardous waste sites and remediation strategies. Most recently, attention is focused on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (a.k.a. PFAS) because of their prevalence in consumer products, their persistent presence in the general population and the relative uncertainty of risk and toxicity of these compounds.

Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been key components of items which are beneficial to humans and have improved our quality of life. These compounds have benefited household items by reducing food sticking to cooking surfaces (e.g. Teflon), improving the flame retardancy of cloth, increasing stain resistance of fabrics, reducing water and grease absorbance of food packaging, and shedding water (e.g. Gore-Tex).

When it was learned that PFAS production workers exhibited higher incidents of certain cancers that were likely attributed to exposure to these compounds, public concern arose[1]. Subsequent studies resulting from court settlements found that nearly 95% of blood samples from the general public contained detectable levels of PFAS compounds. USEPA’s subsequent adoption of a 70 ppt health advisory combined with the Agency’s decision in February 2019 to propose a regulatory determination by the end of 2019, which is the next step in establishing a federal maximum contaminant level (MCL), has generated concern by the public as well as the regulated community.

BSI’s Expertise with PFAS Remediation

BSI’s Dr. Kevin Svitana serves on the National Groundwater Association’s (NGWA) PFAS advisory committee and is working on the association’s update of the 2017 publication Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice (see link).

Dr. Svitana participated in NGWA’s PFAS Management, Mitigation, and Remediation Conference, June 19-20 in Westerville, Ohio (see link). At this two-day conference, national and international experts discussed the theme “PFAS, Is It Really Different?”.  The presentations focused on when traditional assessments are appropriate, and when specific considerations and techniques for PFAS compounds are required. Many talks addressed the success and limitations of PFAS remediation methods, both in-situ and ex-situ. While carbon absorption has proven to be the best method for removing PFAS from water, other technologies are showing promise.

BSI’s Remediation Program Management team is well positioned to assist clients in assessing and dealing with PFAS issues. Since many hazardous waste remediation sites may be reopened or reevaluated relative to potential PFAS occurrence, our team of professionals can help clients define effective strategies to deal with this emerging group of contaminants.

Soechtig, S., Seifert, J, 2018. “The Devil We Know”.