The high resistance of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals to heat, water and oil makes them useful for a range of commercial and industrial applications. However, these commercially valuable qualities also impede environmental remediation. The limited reactivity of PFAS chemicals inhibits their combination with other elements and prolongs their natural decomposition. Widespread use of such invulnerable substances contributes to their environmental persistence and warrants the foreboding moniker as "forever chemicals." Over a lifetime of exposure, PFAS bioaccumulates in human and animal tissues and could lead to adverse health effects.
Destroying these chemicals poses a significant challenge, particularly once they mix with soil or groundwater. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated health advisory levels for PFAS chemicals — specifically perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) — it triggered an extensive exploration of remediation technologies. Because of the chemicals' seemingly impervious nature, most PFAS remediation methods are still in laboratory testing phases or limit use to small-scale contamination sites. Below, we discuss some promising techniques with the potential to remediate contaminated soil and groundwater on a larger scale.
Most traditional remediation methods have proven unsuccessful at reducing or removing PFAS from contaminated soil. However, some innovative remediation technologies used in the field, explored on a pilot basis or tested in laboratories include:
Research into bioremediation methods for soil contaminated by PFAS is also ongoing, but offers some surprising results. Because scientists never hypothesized microbes were capable of breaking down these chemicals, bioremediation of PFAS remains a largely unexplored solution. However, technicians conducting a Wisconsin pilot project injected PFAS-eating microbes into the ground and created artificially optimized growing conditions. After 10 weeks, the site showed a significant reduction of PFAS contaminants. This technology, however promising, is still in the early stages of field testing and will require additional tests prior to large-scale implementation.
More than 40% of drinking water in the U.S. originates from groundwater contaminated by mixing with PFAS-contaminated soil. With the EPA's drinking water health advisory updates for PFAS chemicals, demand for groundwater remediation technologies has dramatically increased, matching growing public concern to protect communities from potential health hazards. Some of the PFAS remediation techniques for contaminated groundwater include:
At spill sites with shallow water tables, technicians often implement PFAS remediation technologies with GAC for soil and groundwater together. Some municipalities are considering pilot projects for removing PFAS from groundwater using more innovative technologies like PFAS-attracting bubbles and biosensors. However, determining the most efficient, innovative and cost-effective PFAS remediation technology for your community requires help from an expert.
At Fehr Graham, we have provided engineering and environmental consulting services to municipalities and communities since 1973. We understand the challenges community leaders face to comply with proposed regulatory agency standards and the proposed enforced standards for PFAS chemicals. Whether you need help determining the most effective remediation methods or overcoming budgetary constraints, the professionals at Fehr Graham care about improving the quality of everyday life for all community members. Our team of environmental engineers is committed to performing site cleanups and PFAS removal in compliance with federal regulatory standards. We also help municipalities secure funding resources for PFAS investigation and remediation.