EPA updates PFAS destruction and disposal guidelines

June 13, 2024

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently updated its interim guidance on best methods to destroy and dispose of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances and materials.

The EPA published the first edition of this guidance in 2020, a year after the nation created its first PFAS Action Plan. The interim guidance provided recommendations, information and methods for properly handling PFAS. These artificial substances, known as “forever chemicals,” are commonly used in personal-care and industrial projects that persist in drinking water, soil, air and food for a long period of time. Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause a range of health issues, including cancer, liver damage, immune suppression, increased cholesterol and birth defects.

The updated guidance builds on the original ordinance with new information gathered from EPA testing and recent findings centered around removing PFAS-containing materials in non-consumer areas. The durability of these materials simultaneously makes them useful in heat-resistant products and difficult to dispose of in the environment.

The guidance focuses on three methods for remediating PFAS substances and materials that are viewed as more protective technologies: thermal destruction, landfills and underground injection. Entities can use the guidance to help determine the optimal option for dealing with forever chemicals and keeping them out of the environment.

Thermal treatment includes using hazardous waste combustors such as commercial incinerators, cement kilns and lightweight aggregate kilns and granular activated carbon (GAC) reactivation units with thermal oxidizers. Recent research has suggested that sufficiently high temperatures are effective at destroying PFAS under the right conditions.

However, the EPA still has uncertainties about the effectiveness of thermal treatment and recommends further testing. The EPA seeks to collaborate with thermal treatment facilities to perform air-emission testing during PFAS thermal treatment processes. The document provides guidance for this testing and identifies high-priority gaps that must be addressed to further update destruction and disposal methods.

The EPA says certain types of hazardous waste landfills are more effective at containing and minimizing PFAS leachate into the environment. However, recent research indicates landfills may release more PFAS into the environment than previously thought.

Underground injection methods ensure PFAS-contaminated fluids are properly contained and cannot enter underground sources of drinking water. However, there are a limited number of wells graded for containing PFAS chemicals, which reduces their more widespread use.

The EPA is also looking into four additional technologies that may be effective at remediating PFAS: mechanochemical degradation, gasification and pyrolysis, electrochemical oxidation and supercritical water oxidation. Further work is needed to determine if these emerging technologies are feasible alternatives. The agency has developed a technology evaluation framework to provide a graded approach to evaluating these technologies’ potential.

Finally, the agency has updated tools, methods and approaches for considering the impacts of potential releases and exposure on communities near destruction and disposal facilities. These resources can help identify vulnerable populations, incorporate vulnerability into decision-making processes and engage the community.

Photo by Bluewater Sweden on Unsplash

Adam Rollins

Adam Rollins brings his expertise as a Researcher and Writer to the Managing Editor role for several of SPI's key publications, including Government Contracting Pipeline, Texas Government Insider, and the latest addition, Government Market News. With a rich background as a freelance Content Specialist, Adam has honed a passion for learning and information gathering, delving into various industries. His research and writing have spanned a range of topics, from artificial intelligence (AI) technology, conservation, and project outsourcing, to managed IT services and software development.

Holding a bachelor's degree in English from Texas State University, Adam's proficiency in message development is complemented by his robust research skills and seasoned writing experience. These attributes make him an invaluable asset to SPI, ensuring the delivery of insightful and impactful content to the company's clientele.

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