New PFAS bill to tackle US water chemical contamination
Water treatment
Point of use / entry
Americas
Thursday, 05 August 2021

PFAS certification in the US: The lay of the land

PFAS is one of the biggest challenges facing the water sector today. These harmful chemicals that do not break down and only accumulate over time are fast becoming a major issue for governments all around the world.

The lay of the land

PFAS is one of the biggest challenges facing the water sector today. These harmful chemicals that do not break down and only accumulate over time are fast becoming a major issue for governments all around the world.

Currently, in the United States, there are no federal policies that protect US citizens from the negative impact of PFAS. Yet on July 21, Congress passed a bill that would see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enact limits on PFAS chemicals in drinking water and declare them hazardous substance.

As of 2021, the EPA's Health Advisories only apply to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), despite the many other hazardous chemicals potentially present in the environment.

In the US, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) protects public drinking water supplies across the United States. Under the SDWA, EPA has regulated more than 90 drinking water contaminants.

According to the WQA, it is estimated that the drinking water supply for 16 million people is contaminated with PFAS.

"There is still a long way to go to national regulations for PFAS reduction in drinking water and any clean up of PFAS contaminated facilities to where they need to be.”

EPA has the authority to set enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for specific chemicals and can require monitoring of public water suppliesCurrently, there are no MCLs established for PFAS chemicals.

Speaking to Aquatech Online, the Water Quality Association said: "Many States have adopted broader and stricter requirements" when it comes to PFAS regulations. Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the US due to schemes such as the PFOA Stewardship program, where eight chemical manufacturers in the US agreed to abolish the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their emissions and products. However it would be a challenge to completely remove all PFAS chemicals that are used in production.

Dr. Cang Li, director of product development/QC at Kinetico told Aquatech Online said: "There is still a long way to go to national regulations for PFAS reduction in drinking water and any clean up of PFAS contaminated facilities to where they need to be.

"Many environmental organisations, like the Environmental Work Group, want to ban the whole PFAS family as a class of chemicals, rather than individual compounds."

An uphill battle

Despite the PFAS Action Act being passed this month, further legislation remains pending.

“Environmental Working Group found that PFAS had been detected in almost 2,800 communities.”

The bill will now be passed to the US Senate for consideration and there is a risk that it could rejected if it does not gain enough support.

Regardless of the success of the bill, it comes at a time where PFAS is starting to find itself in the headlines after evidence emerged of widespread PFAS contamination in the US.

Recently writing for Aquatech Online, Keith Hays, director of Bluefield Research said “forever chemicals could reshape the US water treatment market in the long term.”

Environmental Working Group found that PFAS had been detected in almost 2,800 communities. Previous estimates from the organisation indicate that upward of 200 million people may be exposed to water contaminated by PFAS.

What is PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals, according to the EPA.

Often referred to as 'forever chemicals', these chemicals have been manufactured and used in industries across the world since the 1940s.

As of July 2020, there are over 2,200 confirmed sites of PFAS contamination across all 50 states. Of these chemicals, PFOA and PFOS have been widely produced and are heavily present in the environment and the human body.

PFAS has been found in food packaging, commercial household products, workplaces, drinking water and even in living organisms, such as fish.

Is it possible to remove PFAS?

In short, yes, but it can be tricky to ensure that all the chemicals present have been filtered out.

Effective technologies to treat PFAS include activated carbon, reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, and ion-exchange resins. As well as being found on a new wave of point of use (PoU) products, on a larger scale utilities are investigated the best treatment methods.

For example, Orange County Water District (OCWD) is currently working on adding 10 PFAS treatment plants.

For activated carbon, there are four main types: coconut, wood, coal, and lignite. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages for PFAS removal.

Factors such as the particle size, surface area, porous structures, moisture and pH level all have an impact on its efficiency.

RO membrane technology can be more effective to remove PFAS when combined with activated carbon technology. However, the produced output streams can potentially include concentrated PFAS.

 


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