In the latest episode of our NothingWasted! Podcast, we chat with Anne Germain, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). We discussed the potential health and environmental risks related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), state-level protocols for sampling and more.
Waste360: There’s been so much talk about PFAS lately. Could you share with us what exactly PFAS is?
Anne Germain: PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and they represent manmade fluorinated organic compounds. They are a class of chemicals and, at last count, there are about 4,600 of these chemicals. Originally invented in the first half of the 20th century, they’ve been used by many of the largest U.S. manufacturers in products like Teflon, Scotchguard, food packaging and much more.
Waste360: What is the concern and where do they fit into the waste industry?
Anne Germain: Two of these chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), through the attention of the public at the early part of this century, have been identified as potentially problematic. U.S. manufacturers voluntarily committed to removing PFOA and PFOS from their products; use has declined, but there haven’t been any official regulations or restrictions. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its health advisory for PFOA and PFAS, which generated a great deal of attention. People have recently been concerned about drinking water, groundwater, landfills and other places that these substances may still be found.
Waste360: Do you think academia can help us better understand and manage this issue?
Anne Germain: Yes, the recent research funding from the U.S. EPA—$6 million each for eight states—will be beneficial. There are so many questions that still need to be answered, and this funding will help. We’ll get a better understanding of what happens, and why, when PFAS spend time in landfills.
Listen to the full interview about PFAS below and listen to more episodes here. See how the industry is responding, what regulations might be emerging and what the general public should consider in evaluating their exposure to it.