AECOM is providing clients with long-term Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) management and treatment solutions, having worked on hundreds of PFAS projects globally and at over 200 PFAS sites in every U.S. state and territory.
What are PFAS?
PFAS comprises a diverse group of synthetic chemicals used for over 50 years in military and industrial applications. The strength of the carbon-fluorine bond in all PFAS creates attractive characteristics for industrial applications, and they are used in our everyday lives, including many consumer products for stain resistance, non-stick materials and waterproofing. Beginning in the 1960s, PFAS became key components of aqueous film forming foams used for Class B firefighting and fire suppression. The use of PFAS was common in the following industries:
The very characteristics that made PFAS attractive in industrial applications—stability and resistance to chemical, thermal, or biological degradation—have made them problematic in our environment. PFAS are known to be:
- Limited sorption to soil and sediments
- Highly water soluble, non-volatile and extremely mobile in water
- Exceptional stability
- Persistent with very little attenuation
- Widely present in the environment
PFAS bioaccumulate is believed to create human health risks at very low concentrations in drinking water. Because they don’t easily break down, PFAS have the ability to travel great distances throughout the environment in water and other materials. Recent sample analysis has detected PFAS in soil, groundwater, surface water, biota, raw and finished water supplies, municipal and industrial wastewater influent, landfill leachate and biosolids.
Why are PFAS a problem?
The worldwide historic use of PFAS has resulted in public and regulatory concerns due to the release of the chemicals into the environment and their persistence in humans and animals. Limited understanding of how PFAS impacts human health and the environment have made it the subject of ongoing research and media attention.
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) directed the collection and analysis of municipal drinking water supplies for PFAS, and found them to be widespread and, in some cases, at levels believed to be harmful for human health over a lifetime of exposure. As a result of the findings, USEPA established a lifetime health advisory limit for two PFAS compounds known as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); many states have adopted more stringent and enforceable standards for drinking water, groundwater and some other media for PFOS and PFOA, as well as several other PFAS.
USEPA is presently investigating best available technologies for treatment and revised regulatory standards for PFAS, including discharges to groundwater and surface water. The USEPA is also listing PFAS as a class of chemicals as hazardous waste.
How can AECOM help?
Our professionals have been helping clients identify, manage and treat PFAS contamination since it was identified as an emerging contaminant in the early 2000s.
Collaborating with clients and regulators, our technical experts aim to reduce the risks presented by PFAS-impacted environmental materials, water supplies, leachates, wastewater effluents, industrial charges and residuals/biosolids. We provide environmental and water supply services by engaging our technical specialists to meet client schedule imperatives and budget constraints to mitigate actual and perceived risks in accordance with applicable regulatory standards. Currently, there are no federally enforced environmental standards, but where PFOS and PFOA exceed the USEPA health advisories or state regulatory requirements, drinking water must be addressed through intervention, including treatment or alternative water supply.
We focus on delivering long-term solutions for each client, regardless of project size. AECOM was awarded our first PFAS project in 2001, and has since become a recognized industry leader on PFAS around the globe.
We have extensive experience sampling groundwater, surface water, potable water, wastewater effluent and biosolids to help better understand the extent of the impacts. AECOM’s installed water treatment systems currently treat in excess of 2 billion gallons of water per year. Our technical leaders also have developed strategies for managing PFAS in different sources, including potable systems and at facilities with impacted leachate, stormwater, wastewater and groundwater.
AECOM has established global and regional leaders who support PFAS projects and understand how to work closely with local teams so that information from around the globe on this emerging topic is shared and benefits all of our clients. Our PFAS Technical Practice Group (TPG) tracks regulatory and treatment technology developments and meets monthly to exchange recommendations. We participate in research forums and work with leading academics globally.
We draw on global and local experience and work with clients on the full spectrum of PFAS contamination services and solutions, including:
- PFAS treatment technology, incorporating AECOM’s destructive technology DE-Fluoro™
- Industrial wastewater pretreatment
- Community and stakeholder engagement
- Site assessment, incorporating soil and groundwater
- Human health risk assessment
- Ecological risk assessment
- Toxicology assessments
- Remediation management and solutions
- Off-site release mitigation
- PFAS waste management
Our understanding of the technical, community and legal issues associated with PFAS means AECOM can help clients navigate site and project challenges to implement long-term solutions for the protection of human health and the environment.