Emerging Contaminant PFAS Webinar

The Emerging Contaminant PFAS webinar provided a broad overview of emerging water contaminants and their potential impact on water and wastewater treatment operations, including biosolids/residuals disposal. With a focus on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), presenters addressed:

  • public health and environmental concerns
  • current and anticipated regulatory action
  • potential operational impacts and treatment alternatives
  • communication to customers and other interested parties

Emerging contaminants, also known as micro or “nano” contaminants, include a diverse group of natural and manmade chemicals that have been introduced into our daily lives through pharmaceuticals, personal care products, non-stick and stain-resistant coatings, firefighting foam and pesticides. Ongoing scientific research suggests that they may have ecological and human health impacts, and that these substances can enter and then remain in the drinking water cycle.

Emerging contaminant PFAS is a broad family of contaminants (more than 4000 compounds) that are ubiquitous, resistant to degradation and conventional treatment. Their persistence in the environment (which has gained them the label of “forever chemicals”) raises concerns for long-term human exposure.

Presenters discussed the current and potential federal and state regulatory landscape including existing guidelines on PFAS. Operational considerations for water and wastewater utilities include potential short-, medium- and long-term impacts, ranging from media attention, the need for increased stakeholder communication, and scrutiny of biosolids quality and disposal methods to loss of beneficial reuse options, restrictions on landfill disposal, requirements for end-of-pipe treatment, and potential legal implications.

Emerging treatment options were presented including granular activated carbon, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation, and thermal treatment such as incineration, pyrolysis and cement kilns. Challenges for many treatment technologies include high energy demand, permitting and unanticipated consequences.

Forever chemicals are gaining traction with the media, and public attention can be focused on the lack of proven solutions and consistent regulations. Many water and wastewater utilities are already being impacted by these forever chemicals, and others will be soon. Officials should consider a proactive approach to addressing concerns by becoming a trusted source of information for customers. A focus on customer safety, reaffirming an organization’s regulatory track record, admitting the presence of PFAS and providing data can help utilities provide perspective and shape the PFAS narrative.

For more information, feel free to reach out to our presenters: