To a wastewater treatment engineer, at least during workdays, it seems like everyone is talking about forever chemicals, all of the time. There’s a good reason for that, because the huge group of man-made chemicals has climbed in priority to be at the top of most wastewater treatment regulatory considerations. Forever chemicals are also known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and have rapidly become the latest of the emerging contaminants in drinking water to be treated. So, while there is still a lot of toxicology research to do, PFAS destruction and even which PFAS actually needs to be addressed, there is very little doubt regarding the future need to treat PFAS in landfill leachate and other wastewaters. Everyone is in agreement, the environment needs to be protected from forever chemicals.
PFAS chemicals can withstand high heat without becoming unstable as well as repelling oil and water, making them ideal for inclusion in fire-fighting foam, lining non-stick pans, or water resistant clothing. But unfortunately, PFAS can persist in the environment – water, fish, humans, etc. – for a long time. So, having efficient and cost-effective methods of treating wastewater, drinking water, bio-solids, etc., to reduce/remove PFAS is becoming increasingly important. Luckily, some traditional and very available treatment methods are effective at treating PFAS as well as some newer, non-traditional treatment methods that appear to be promising.
One effective management technology is using deep injection wells to store the PFAS contaminated wastewater deep, far below drinking water sources and within high total dissolved solids groundwater. Deep injection wells are only allowed where the deep geology and subsurface conditions can allow for the PFAS wastewater to be contained where it is injected.
Additional management options are granular activated carbon (GAC) or ion exchange (IX), which are adsorption treatment methods that use a media, through which the PFAS contaminated wastewater can pass, and the charged PFAS molecules become bound up in the opposite charged GAC or IX media.
Reverse osmosis (RO) and foam fractionation (FF) treatment methods use separation, either through very small pores in a membrane (RO) or applying aeration to create a PFAS concentrated foam (FF), to allow the treated, cleaner water to discharge the treatment process and the concentrate (RO) or foamate (FF) is left and can be dealt with more efficiently, because after treatment the concentrate/foamate is a much smaller volume than the original wastewater flow.
These PFAS management methods simply move the PFAS chemicals out of the way and don’t actually destroy the PFAS. PFAS destruction generally requires more effort and cost because high pressure and/or high heat are required to break the carbon – fluorine (C-F) bonds. A regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) or supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) are PFAS destruction methods that can be employed. An RTO typically operates at high temperature (e.g., 1,800 F) and SCWO utilizes both high temperature (>705 F) and high pressure (>3,210 psi) within a process to, again, break the C-F bonds. Electrocoagulation, advanced oxidation processes and plasma are also treatment methods that could be employed to destroy PFAS.
These are just a few of the many PFAS management and destruction options. It can be hard to decide what’s right for your project. That’s where SCS can help. We’re technology agnostic – so you can trust our recommendations are appropriate for your project and goals. Contact us today to learn more about what’s possible.
About the Author: Sam Cooke, PE, CEM, MBA, is a Vice President and our expert on Industrial Wastewater Pretreatment. He has nearly three decades of professional and project management experience in engineering with a concentration in environmental and energy engineering. Mr. Cooke works within SCS’s Liquids Management initiative to provide services to our clients nationwide.
Additional PFAS Management and Treatment Resources:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, as hazardous substances. The proposed rule published in the Federal Register designates two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (collectively, PFAS) constituents as CERCLA Hazardous Substances. While this is a small subset of PFAS constituents, PFOA and PFOS are reportedly the most commonly used and likely to be detectable. Additional PFAS compounds are certainly on the horizon for consideration by EPA and, in fact, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued by EPA in April of 2023 to seek input for seven additional compounds for hazardous substance designation.
What Could This Mean For Property Transactions and Real Estate Development?
When the CERCLA hazardous substance rule becomes final (anticipated in 2023 or 2024), it will be mandatory to consider these PFAS constituents when performing Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) to identify Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs) in connection with a property. Because of the ubiquitous use of PFAS, often called “forever chemicals,” in residential, commercial, and industrial products, some Environmental Professionals are concerned that PFAS-related RECs will be commonplace.
In their recent paper, “How Will EPA’S Proposed CERCLA Hazardous Substance Designation of PFOA and PFOS Impact the Environmental Due Diligence Practice?” Jeff Marshall, PE, and Mike Miller, CHMM, discuss the anticipated impacts of the PFAS rule on environmental due diligence. Depending on the former uses, the number of RECs, and ESA results, some sites are more likely to feel the impact on the potential value of a property.
As our PFAS knowledge continues to evolve, so will applying this knowledge to the environmental due diligence practice and, ultimately, real estate conditions. Read the technical paper to understand the terminology and types of properties more likely at risk.
Jeffrey D. Marshall, PE – Vice-President. Mr. Marshall is a Vice President and the practice leader for the Environmental Services Practice for SCS offices in the mid-Atlantic region. He is also the SCS National Expert for Innovative Technologies and Emerging Contaminants. His diversified background is in project engineering and management, with an emphasis on the environmental chemistry and human health aspects of hazardous materials/waste management, site investigations, waste treatment, risk-based remediation and redevelopment, and environmental compliance/permitting issues. He has over 40 years of environmental experience and directs and manages environmental due diligence projects in the mid-Atlantic. He is a chemical engineer, Professional Engineer (VA, MD, WV, NC, and SC) and meets the credentials of an Environmental Professional.
Michael J. Miller, CHMM – Vice President. Mr. Miller is a Vice President and the practice leader for the Environmental Services Practice for SCS offices in the Central region. He also serves as an SCS National Expert for Environmental Due Diligence. He supports firm operations throughout the United States related to Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments and the completion of large portfolios and complex site assessments. A Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) since 2009, Mike has more than 28 years of experience in environmental management and consulting with an extensive background in RCRA-related matters and industrial compliance, planning, and permitting.
Additional Real Estate Resources:
As you may recall, in September 2022, EPA issued a proposed rule to designate two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and their salts and structural isomers — as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.” EPA is currently reviewing comments received on this proposed rule.
On April 13, 2023, EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) asking the public for input regarding potential future hazardous substance designations of additional PFAS substances under CERCLA. The ANPRM includes:
The ANPRM announcement in the Federal Register is available at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-04-13/pdf/2023-07535.pdf
More solutions and information at Liquids Management.
On March 23, 2023, EPA hosted a live webinar entitled “Listening Session: CERCLA PFAS Enforcement.” EPA is currently preparing a CERCLA PFAS Enforcement Discretion Policy, and they presented an overview of their current thoughts on the topic. Following EPA’s 15-minute presentation, live comments from registered speakers (e.g., Anne Germain with National Waste and Recycling Association, Robin Wright with Delaware Solid Waste Authority) were provided.
SCS’s National Expert on Emerging Contaminants and on Innovative Technologies Jeff Marshall, provides these highlights from EPA’s presentation, delivered by Ken Patterson (EPA Office of Site Remediation Enforcement):
The policy discretion document is still being developed by EPA. The recording of the March 14 and 23, 2023, listening sessions will be posted soon on EPA’s CERCLA PFAS Enforcement Listening Sessions web page.
Follow SCS on your preferred social media site for updates. Please share this update with others whose operations will be impacted.
Solutions: Liquids Management and Sequestration
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