by Bob Bowden, LEP
If you haven’t heard of PFAS yet, there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing about it soon. PFAS is a hot topic in the environmental community, but, the truth is, it’s important for everyone to know what it is.
“PFAS” stands for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances”. Simply put, they are chemicals that contain carbon-fluorine chemical bonds, which are some of the strongest in nature. As a result of these strong bonds, these chemicals are resistant to heat, water, and oil products, which made them seemingly ideal additions to a host of products, including paints, food-grade non-stick coatings, personal care products (cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, etc.), and fire-suppressant foam. Don’t panic. I’m not going to tell you to throw out everything you have in your home. From an environmental standpoint, we’re focusing on the much bigger uses: manufacturers, landfills, firefighting training areas, car washes, gas stations, etc.
PFAS do not break down in the environment easily. Which means they stick around for a long time, and the human body has a hard time excreting them. So why is that a bad thing, you might be wondering? There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can affect our health. While more research is needed, studies have shown that exposure to PFAS can lead to low birth weight, can affect the immune system, can interfere with the body’s natural hormones, and certain types of exposures can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
A major reason the environmental community is concerned about PFAS is because we don’t want you to ingest it and we don’t want it getting into your drinking water. Typically, the main way this could happen is if there was a large-scale release (from a manufacturing facility that uses PFAS, for example) via improper drainage, improper disposal, leakage, air emissions, or stormwater runoff. The EPA has set advisory levels and has developed testing methods, but is relying on states to set their own action levels (if a certain amount is found in soil and/or groundwater, the affected area may have to be cleaned up). While all New England states have action levels for drinking water, currently Connecticut is the only New England state that has established preliminary soil action levels, though studies are ongoing. New Hampshire requires sampling at certain sites that meet certain criteria and has recently proposed new rules after elevated chemical levels were found in public water supplies.
This is concerning because we, as a company, have been testing sites in Connecticut and are finding both water and soil action levels being exceeded. These have been at sites where we more-or-less anticipated these findings (e.g., a fire training school and a car wash). However, the fact is, PFAS are being found in a wide variety of settings, the regulatory community has become highly aware of them, and there will be more and more requirements to look for them, particularly if a drinking water supply may be threatened.
What can you do? We recommend that companies and organizations review their current processes to determine the potential for PFAS use, and, if identified, prepare an Operations and Maintenance Program to develop best management practices and/or engineered solutions to reduce risk to PFAS exposure. Fuss & O’Neill has extensive experience developing such programs, and we can assist you with an evaluation of PFAS in your organization.
For more information, download our PFAS brochure here>
About the Author:
Bob Bowden, LEP is an Associate and leader of the Manchester, CT Remediation Department. He is a hydrogeologist with 29 years of experience, specializing in the investigation and remediation of soil and groundwater contamination at large industrial and commercial facilities with complex site use histories.