PFAS: An Emerging Contaminant Lurking in your Water System

August 26, 2019

You may not be familiar with the term “poly- and per-fluroalkylated substances”, or PFAS, but you have come into contact with them. And now, communities are becoming aware of the potential negative effects of PFAS on human health, and how improvements to municipal drinking water systems can help reduce exposure to these compounds.

PFAS are a large group of man-made complex substances that have been used in many industrial and consumer products such as waterproof clothing, carpets and upholstery, microwave popcorn bags, non-stick pans, fire-fighting foams and even personal care products such as detergents and dental floss. Manufacturing of PFAS stopped in May 2000, but their residual effects are still felt today due to their persistent nature. Major sources of PFAS into the environment include:

  • Fire training/Fire response Sites and Airports: use of aqueous firefighting foams (AFFF) for training and emergency response
  • Landfills: leachate as a result of waste disposal of PFAS containing materials
  • Wastewater treatment plants/biosolids: combined sewer overflows (CSOs), treated effluent discharges, and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs)

Why are municipalities concerned? Some PFAS have leached their way into the water supply, and therefore into humans. PFAS have been internationally documented in sediments, surface water, groundwater, wildlife, and human blood. Lab research on animals has documented links to numerous negative health effects including cancer, reproductive health, infant growth/ development, thyroid function, immune system issues, and liver damage.

Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), cleanup recommendations, treatment technologies, and evaluation of PFAS safety based on human health and the environment are still developing and being determined. EPA has developed some groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFAS compounds and has established a health advisory at 70 parts per trillion, however this only applies to drinking water sources. To date, most PFAS treatment has been focused on the treatment of PFAS in liquid or water media, although there is also recent development of remediation technologies for PFAS in soils or solid media.

What can municipalities do to address this growing concern? Some are proactively addressing soil and groundwater affected by PFAS by turning to licensed environmental consultants such as BETA for assistance in remediation and treatment. For example, BETA currently provides LSP, environmental engineering, and environmental remediation  services for the documented PFAS release at the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy. On behalf of Barnstable County, BETA provides regulatory coordination and required submittals to address the PFOS/PFOA impacts on the site and continues to evaluate the imminent hazards to downgradient public and private water supplies. Read more about this project by clicking here.

If you are interested in learning more about how BETA can assist your community in addressing PFAS, reach out today.