Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic chemicals that have been used in manufacturing for decades. How to approach removal of these “forever chemicals” and who will pay for treatment are part of this central topic for utilities.
PFAS are everywhere, including in certain food items, packaging, cosmetics, cookware, foams, textiles and lubricants to name a fraction. While PFAS are considered an essential component to modern everyday life, given they are also used in cellphones, aircraft and medical devices, they become problematic when they make their way into the water supply. The water industry has been tasked with addressing a problem it did not create.
On March 14, 2023, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced Maximum Contaminant Levels for six PFAS chemicals, including the two most prolific: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Four others — perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, also known as GenX Chemicals) — were also included in the regulatory framework using the Hazard Index.
Activated carbon and ion exchange are the two most common methods for removing PFAS from water, and reverse osmosis has shown promise in some instances. The solutions in this gallery were showcased at AWWA ACE23 in Toronto, Canada.