By Keller O’Leary 

The Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) hosted the second entry this month in its Summer School series of free, educational sessions. This webinar was “The Future of PFAS” and gathered water industry leaders and professionals to discuss various aspects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

Host and foundation operations manager Callie Matheny started the session by introducing two speakers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), technical lead for PFAS NPDWR Ashley Greene and physical scientist Cindy Frickle.  

PFAS: Past & Present

Greene started her portion by briefly discussing the history of PFAS and went on to describe the conditions that allowed for PFAS to become such a pervasive pollutant in the environment. As this contaminant issue continued to impact communities, the National Science Foundation (NSF) became paramount in the classification and standardization of best treatment methods that address PFAS in water and treatment processes. 

She then spoke about the particularities of federal classifications of these PFAS contaminants, which were officially adopted through the New Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) in the form of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs), as well as Hazard Indexes for certain contaminant mixtures.  

Frickle then began to speak about the innovations and methods for both disposal and destruction of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials through its semi-annual interim guidance. This guidance lists underground injection, certain landfills, and thermal treatment as recommendations to address PFAS materials. 

Frickle emphasized this guidance does not dictate the methods that a water system must utilize to maintain proper MCLs or MCLGs, and noted the use of emerging technologies and novel treatment techniques as a way that the EPA encourages water systems to design solutions that fit for them, prioritizing flexible treatment options.   

Frickle also stated that PFAS remediation and solutions are less accessible in smaller and disadvantaged communities, and the EPA has offered additional tools and resources to make treatment equitable across communities.   

PFAS Disposal & Destruction

The next speaker was then David Trueba, CEO of Revive Environmental, who spoke about the decisions that factor into designing solutions for PFAS remediation, and how systems and PFAS sources can consider addressing their contaminants. While some may require a recurring solution, there are many locations with one-time service needs. The level of PFAS remediation will ultimately determine the scope of the operations needed to address them.

The listed cycle of evaluation touches on a few major considerations for systems and organizations seeking to remediate with PFAS disposal and destruction, outlining the importance of designing for scope, options for removal, disposal and destruction methods, and the methods needed to deploy solutions based on the framework. 

Trueba remarked that PFAS management requires a holistic approach to its remediation.  

Last on the session was Adam Redding, the technical director for Calgon Carbon. Redding spoke extensively on the efficacy of granulated activated carbon (GAC) reactivation as a method to reutilize the benefits GAC-based treatment methods.  

GAC can be derived from materials like: 

  • Wood 
  • Lignite 
  • Coconut 
  • Bituminous coal  

The type of materials chosen can determine the size and scope of the pores that are utilized through treatment. Choosing the type of materials with an optimal ratio of pores that transfer materials to pores that serve to adsorb compounds. The types of PFAS compounds can impact the longevity of the bed life of the chosen GAC because of their size and water-solubility.  

Redding pointed to a case study that showed the importance of reutilizing the GAC media through the process of thermal reactivation. High-temperature reactions cause the volatile compounds held within the spores to be destroyed through this process, and the remaining media can be shown to have similar efficacy rates and collective properties as unused media. Redding emphasized the use of disposal via reactivation as an affordable and sustainable method for the destruction of PFAS compounds in GAC filtration media.  

This webinar has been the second in the summer series from the WQRF, preceded by the previous Contaminant Occurrence Map Launch Party and followed by the PFAS Surrogate Study. For more information on PFAS, check out the EPA’s webpage on the topic or watch a recording of this month’s webinar here

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