PFAS: ramping up clean-up campaigns

While lawmakers in the EU and USA consider how to restrict PFAS usage, experts are already engaged in the task of removing “forever chemicals” from contaminated land and groundwater. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are increasingly linked to several serious health conditions, including cancers and birth defects. These chemicals have long been used in a wide range of household and industrial products including firefighting foams, cosmetics, textiles, paints, cooking pans and food packaging. When emitted in production and waste streams, PFAS bioaccumulate in the environment and can enter the human food chain.

The PFAS problem

According to the Forever Pollution Project, there are more than 17 000 sites across Europe that are contaminated by PFAS, with an additional 21 000 sites that are presumed to be contaminated due to current or past industrial activity.

Of these, more than 2 100 sites and 20 manufacturing facilities can be considered PFAS hotspots, where contamination reaches levels thought to be hazardous to the health of exposed people.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dr David Megson of Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, said: “People are doing more routine monitoring, but the number of PFAS we need to be worried about has gone from two, to 17, to 47 and now we could have 14 000.”

In recent years, companies in the USA and Europe have settled liability claims and made agreements to remediate contaminated land and groundwater.

However, clean-ups may be complex, with treatment depending on factors including whether the chemicals are short- or long-chain, and what combination they are in.

A further complication is how to destroy the PFAS once they have been removed.


DESOTEC’s PFAS treatment services

One key proven treatment technology is activated carbon filtration, noted for its efficiency in adsorbing PFAS and bringing concentrations down to the extremely low levels needed for compliance and safety.

DESOTEC provides mobile activated carbon filtration services to companies in various sectors, including those encountering PFAS in wastewater, groundwater or air.

After PFAS removal, DESOTEC measures the level of PFAS on the saturated carbon to identify the best treatment course. If the concentration of PFAS is higher than the EU persistent organic pollutants (POPs) limits, we send the carbon for treatment by a specialised third party.

If the PFAS concentration is below the legal limits, we can treat the spent carbon safely and sustainably in our reactivation facilities, in full compliance with POPs regulations.

Safe and sustainable waste carbon handling is included in our full-service solution. Our facilities are equipped to completely destroy PFAS, reacting and neutralizing them to harmless salts.

Gases and other impurities generated by this process are neutralised by our post-combustion and scrubber units, ensuring no PFAS are emitted at detectable levels. With this strict process, we ensure that PFAS are fully destroyed below detectable levels.