Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of widely used man-made chemicals with components that break down very slowly over time. These ‘forever chemicals’ are commonly found near military bases, airports, and industrial sites, and travel through air or water to areas far from their origin point. Neither nature nor the human body does a good job of breaking these components down, and to date, very few and costly technologies are available to remove these substances.
Available data indicates that PFAS could pose serious health risks to communities and their residents. These chemicals eventually accumulate in animals, people, and the environment over extended periods of time, creating potential risks to human health and the environment.
The Origin of PFAS
PFAS were created in the 1950s to create coatings for products to resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Valued by manufacturers due to their protective properties, PFAS can be found in products such as furniture, adhesives, food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, non-stick cooking surfaces, carpets, and more.
Common in everyday household items, PFAS escape into the environment, where they do not break down naturally, often finding their way into the air, water, and soil. Soil contaminated with PFAS may leach these substances into groundwater, which has been reported in public drinking water systems, and may be consumed by humans. Once PFAS accumulate within a person’s bloodstream, they may result in adverse health effects.
A study from the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine linked PFAS to liver damage and potentially Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). According to the study, all adults in the United States have detectable levels of PFAS in their bodies.
How PFAS Are Currently Being Addressed
PFAS don’t break down in the environment from traditional remedial technologies applicable to other contaminants. If detected in groundwater, the groundwater must be extracted from aquifers and filtered before being returned to the aquifer or filtered underground. While research is underway for technologies capable of breaking down PFAS into non-harmful compounds, no technology is currently available. If PFAS are detected in soil, the only available remediation technology available is high-temperature incineration. To date, no remedial technology exists to address PFAS in the air.
Maine: A PFAS Case Study Examined
The State of Maine is dealing with an alarming amount of PFAS contamination in its groundwater, drinking water, freshwater fish, wild deer, farm soil, farm animals, and more. Some livestock, dairy, and local produce farms were forced to close completely, with the animals mandated to stay on the property due to the health risk they pose to humans and the environment. This prevalent contamination can be attributed to the widespread use of ‘sludge’ on farmland in the 1970s and 1980s. This ‘sludge’ was sold as a soil fertilizing agent sourced from waste products of local sewage treatment plants. The persistent properties of PFAS in the ‘sludge’ have accumulated over the years to contaminate entire acres of land and everything within them. Many lawsuits have been filed within the state due to this contamination.
PFAS legislation and regulatory response at the State and Federal level has become a priority in recent years. Consumers are increasingly mindful of PFAS when purchasing items that use these chemicals, and many companies are purposefully creating products free of PFAS. The complexities of navigating these rules can be challenging, and it can be helpful to have an experienced environmental services firm well-versed in the latest PFAS news like Cameron-Cole, an ADEC Innovation, work with you to avoid potential project setbacks.
Read more about current PFAS regulations and legislations here.