On July 17th, 2019, Angie Martin, our Vice President, attended the Missouri Waste Control Coalition Conference to give a presentation that addressed the health concerns, legislation, and treatment options associated with Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a persistent group of manufactured chemicals used in water and stain repellents, nonstick coatings, cleaning products, firefighting foams, and more.

Environmental issues and health concerns have been linked to PFAS, calling for Congress to draft legislation pertaining to PFAS waste stream management and disposal. Many amendments regarding PFAS have been added to the National Defense Authorization Act, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently reviewing a plethora of PFAS bills.

There are a variety of treatment options available for PFAS. However, the different chemical and physical properties of the thousands of PFAS species make selecting a treatment option challenging. With talk of the negative implications of PFAS on human health and the environment on the rise, Angie discussed possible treatment options and their effectiveness, including separation, transformation, disposal, and destruction.

SEPARATION technologies such as granular activated carbon, ion resin exchange, membrane filtration, and precipitation concentrate PFAS out of contaminated water. While these methods can be quite effective in removing PFAS from water, the PFAS is still existent. It has just been transferred to a membrane, resin, or PFAS-rich sludge, and must now be treated further.

TRANSFORMATION through oxidation or biodegradation is another treatment option. When oxidized, the carbon-carbon or carbon-oxygen bonds in PFAS are more easily broken than the persistent carbon-fluorine bond. Breaking the carbon-carbon backbone of longer PFAS molecules without breaking the carbon-fluorine bonds simply creates a greater number shorter PFAS molecules. Biodegradation is similar; biodegradation pathways for PFAS precursors lead to PFAS species of regulatory concern. Even though these methods do have their positives, such as a lack of PFAS waste being generated, they are ultimately ineffective.

DISPOSAL in a landfill is another largely ineffective method for PFAS treatment. Many are landfilling PFAS waste from separation processes. However, due to the solubility and mobility of some PFAS molecules, PFAS can easily escape the landfills in leachate and be reintroduced to the environment.

DESTRUCTION using the extreme heat of incineration breaks the carbon-fluorine bonds characteristic of PFAS. Incineration is the only commercially available technology with the capacity to address the PFAS problem, avoid liability, minimize human health concerns, and abate the environmental persistence of PFAS. Destruction is Heritage’s only management method provided to customers with PFAS waste.

If you have any questions regarding PFAS or treatment options offered by Heritage Environmental Services, please reach out to your account representative, or contact Angie Martin at angie.martin@heritage-enviro.com.