There is mounting evidence, and substantial expert opinion, that the PFAS class of chemicals cause significant negative consequences to human health and the natural environment. These ill-effects include various cancers, heart issues, digestive troubles, hormonal disruptions, pregnancy complications, and reduced vaccine efficacy, as well as contamination of landfills, industrial sites, civil and military airport sites, groundwater, rives, lakes and oceans, and disruptions throughout the food chain. In addition to these, the yearly healthcare costs related PFAS-exposure in Canada has been calculated, according to a 2019 study, as US$4.6B to US$7.5B. And the global economic damage can be conservatively estimated in excess of half a trillion US$ per annum.
In addition, estimates for the costs to the chemical companies for PFAS litigation is upwards of over two billion dollars and mounting. The real market impact of PFAS is soon going to be felt well beyond just a few chemical manufacturers. Manufacturing, industry, waste management, landfills, construction, utilities, and insurance sectors will all be significantly impacted within the next year due to a number of federal and state-level actions underway with respect to PFAS regulations.
Yet PFAS contamination is profoundly under-studied, under-regulated, and under-remediated. And since PFAS are “forever chemicals” that do not degrade when left unattended, these chemicals will continue to accumulate until the problem is properly addressed. The economic, social, environmental, and health impacts of continued inaction grow with each passing day.
Proven-Field Experience and Pilots Are Key
PFAS challenges are unique from site to site, owing to the sheer diversity of different PFAS compounds and, it cannot be overstated, co-contaminants present. For this reason, no two treatment solutions are the same – the most effective approach can differ significantly between projects:
- Fire-fighting training area where aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) have been used for decades will likely contain high total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) and various surfactants, which will undoubtedly have to be dealt with prior to PFAS capture.
- Landfills leachates will contain a large variety of PFAS chemical depending on the type of waste received (industrial, municipal, others) in addition to biological and chemical oxygen demand (BOD and COD), dissolved metals, chlorides, ammonia, sulfates, nitrates and phosphates, etc., all affecting downstream PFAS treatment strategies.
- Groundwater composition will be as diverse - and will vary with the upstream human activities (manufacturing, chemicals, agricultural, military, others).
Addressing the site-to-site complexity of PFAS requires a comprehensive investigation to adequately characterize the distinct PFAS species, coexisting contaminants and other conditions that will affect the performance of the treatment. Adopting a holistic approach with the goal of designing a tailored, site-specific solution entails a rigorous process of on-site analysis, lab testing, field trials (pilot), performance monitoring, and thorough execution.
Some existing PFAS clean-up solutions have been shown to be effective but can quickly become extremely expensive. Just the pilot testing, even for smaller ones, can require more investment than originally planned, often due to lack of careful preliminary analyses and evaluations. One of the best approaches to minimize these costs is to deploy a small, mobile testing equipment to evaluate on-site the effectiveness of different treatment approaches for each application. By doing so, later site piloting is seriously simplified and de-risked, avoiding delays and cost increases.
Because there is significant risk involved in mitigating PFAS — when it comes to financial, safety, and reputation — it is critical to select an accomplished and field-proven solutions partner, with a vast and diversified track record, like established companies willing to offer turn-key solutions or design-build-operate solutions, depending on the project opportunity, for PFAS contamination. As such, they are best placed to select to most effective solution, selecting and juxtaposing from all types of treatment whether physical separation (filtration), electro/chemical (oxidation), physical (adsorption media) and thermal.
Given our extensive experience with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic industrial compounds) and chlorinated solvents for many decades, our PFAS projects for over 20 years, and our track record with the federal and provincial government in Canada of delivering first-in-class turn-key environmental site remediation projects, our team is definitely ready to take on this challenge.
Goldenman, Gretta, et al. The Cost of Inaction: A Socioeconomic Analysis of Environmental and Health Impacts Linked to Exposure to PFAS. Nordic Council of Ministers, 2019, The Cost of Inaction: A Socioeconomic Analysis of Environmental and Health Impacts Linked to Exposure to PFAS, click here.