This week, 271 chrome plating facilities in California received an order from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) mandating the investigation of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at their facilities. Up until 2016, fume suppressants used by these facilities often contained perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), a variety of PFAS.
PFAS consists of thousands of entirely man-made chemicals characterized by a strong bond between fluorine and carbon that have many manufacturing and industrial applications. They are also found in consumer products such as carpeting, apparel, personal care items, and fast food paper wrappings. PFAS is used in firefighting foam, wire and cable coatings, and in the manufacturing of semiconductors. Health studies have linked small doses of PFAS, including PFOS, to reduced immune response, raised cholesterol, and cancer.
PFAS has been widely used within the chrome plating industry as a chemical fume suppressant. According to the National Association for Surface Finishing, it’s estimated that 30 – 40% of surface finishing facilities have chromium electroplating processes. The beginning of its use in the industry goes back to the 1950s and most recently has been required by many states to reduce harmful hexavalent chrome air emissions. Because the chrome plating industry is so highly regulated and monitored, the required use of PFAS in the plating process is well known and therefore has been “on the radar” of state and federal enforcement agencies as potential sources for PFAS pollution.
Following the release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS Action Plan, many states have begun to draft plans and take action to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS have been used in the production of a wide range of industrial and household products, including fire suppressant foam (Aqueous Film-Forming Foams or AFFF) stored and used at airports and aviation facilities for example. Peripatetic in water, PFAS are in the environment and detected in humans.
Nationwide PFAS Sampling and Analyses Plans
States and the federal government are launching programs to sample stormwater, groundwater, and wastewater for the more common PFAS substances at aviation facilities, firefighter training facilities, military bases and training centers, petroleum refineries and terminals, and petrochemical production facilities.
Other secondary sources, such as landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and where biosolids are used in agricultural applications, are preparing for more aggressive water and environmental testing to help the states determine the potential exposure through drinking water due to the tendency of the substances to accumulate in groundwater.
Many states, such as California are focusing on PFAS analytes including PFOA and PFOS. Massachusetts, for example, is focusing on a subset of PFAS compounds – PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA, and PFNA, because these compounds are considered a threat to human health at high levels. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), blood levels of both PFOS and PFOA have steadily decreased in U.S. residents since 1999-2000, but only water and soil-sampling plans can help narrow down potential sources and those facilities that may have accumulated PFAS historically. Although not an exhaustive list, they are a sound and reasonable start, which accredited laboratories are capable of detecting, analyzing, and can be treated with available technology.
Focus on California’s Phased Plan – Phase I for Airports, Aviation Facilities, Landfills
In our blog, we’ll focus on California and the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) PFAS Phased Investigation Approach published on March 6, 2019. On March 20, 2019, the SWRCB initiated Phase I of its investigative plan by issuing orders to 31 airports, over 250 landfills, and over 900 drinking water wells to obtain PFAS data across the state. The order issued to airports entitled “Water Code Section 13267 Order for the Determination of the Presence of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances – Order WQ 2019-0005-DWQ,” requires source investigation and sampling at airports. We’ve linked to the PDF for airports here. Phase II will cover refineries, bulk terminals, non-airport fire training areas, and 2017-2018 urban wildfire areas. Phase III will cover secondary manufacturers, wastewater treatment plants and pre-treatment plants, and domestic wells.
The Order requires the facilities to submit a Technical Report to the Regional Water Board upon notification. For example at aviation facilities, an “Airport Operator Questionnaire” is due to the Regional Water Board within 30 days and other requirements including a Work Plan for a one-time preliminary site investigation within 60 days of receiving order notification. Submission of the final sampling and analysis report for each facility is due 90 days following the State or Regional Water Board acceptance of the facility’s Work Plan.
Hire a State-licensed Professional Geologist or Professional Engineer
While the schedule is aggressive, professional engineers familiar with these investigations and reporting requirements can meet the timetable. What should facility owners and managers expect from their professional geologist or engineer? A complaint investigation of possible PFAS releases at your site will include all of the following:
Preparation of the state required documents including a work plan for the preliminary site investigation.
A site map with sample locations, PFAS material storage and use areas, probable release areas including firefighting training areas, crash sites, and spills from handling.
The report needs to identify sensitive receptors such as municipal supply wells, domestic wells, and surface water bodies within a one-mile radius of a suspected source area.
Proposed surface and subsurface soil sampling locations to delineate the surficial and vertical extent of impacts where PFAS were applied to land.
Proposed representative groundwater sample locations in proximity to a suspected source area.
Existing monitoring wells for your facility may be used if located in proximity to PFAS source(s), and groundwater samples would be representative of groundwater conditions. If the groundwater gradient is unknown, at a minimum, three groundwater samples will be collected around the source area.
The sampling and analysis plan for compounds and parameters specified by the state that includes quality assurance and quality control procedures necessary to ensure valid and representative data is obtained and reported. Your engineer or geologist will determine the appropriate sampling procedures, including sampling equipment, sampling containers, the quality of water used for Blank preparation and equipment decontamination, sample holding times, and quantities for sampling PFAS compounds.
Best practices will minimize contamination, so all sampling materials, equipment, blanks, containers, and equipment decontamination reagents used in sampling must be PFAS free, to the maximum extent practicable.
Include all reporting limits for PFAS.
The signature, stamp, and contact information of the California-licensed Professional Geologist or Professional Engineer responsible for the content of the Work Plan.
The Final Report should include the final sampling and analysis report, submitted no later than 90 days following the State or Regional Water Board acceptance of the Work Plan. This report should include a description of the sampling activities; a summary table of analytical results; the Chain of Custody; the field sampling log; and boring logs and any temporary/permanent monitoring well construction details.
The report will also contain the site map showing the sampling/monitoring locations, and a copy of the laboratory analytical results of the monitored media.
The Questionnaire is to be completed and submitted within 30 days if your facility has not discharged, disposed of, spilled, or released in any way, AFFF or other PFAS containing materials to the land at your facility, or if you have already conducted sampling for these constituents in compliance with the minimum work plan requirements.
The Questionnaire, the Work Plan, and all other reports and analytics are submitted in a searchable electronic format, with transmittal letter, text, tables, figures, laboratory analytical data, and appendices in Portable Document Format (PDF) format and in electronic data deliverable (EDD) format to state’s GeoTracker website via the Electronic Submittal of Information (ESI) Portal.
SCS Engineers’ professional engineers, geologists, and hydrogeologist are available to answer questions. SCS samples, oversees analyses, writes environmental reports, and designs-builds treatment for landfill, industrial, and aero facilities nationwide. Visit our website or contact SCS at-1-800-767-4727 or . SCS will match your industry need with a local professional to assist you.
For more information use the links in the blog, or visit the USEPA PFAS website.
About the Authors:
Chris Crosby is a Project Manager at SCS Engineers and has over thirteen years of professional experience in the environmental consulting ﬁeld. He successfully manages complex environmental site assessments, subsurface investigations, and remediation projects to help navigate regulatory requirements and meet client objectives. He routinely investigates a variety of constituents of concern at properties with soil, groundwater, and vapor intrusion impacts due to releases from historical site use and implements appropriate remediation technologies to restore properties to be protective of human health and the environment.
Diane Samuels is the Corporate Communications Director at SCS. She writes blogs and articles about environmental challenges and the technologies available to design solutions for waste management and other industries responsible for safeguarding the environment.