Complex chemical structures, impacts to human health and the environment, evolving regulations…How do we address the challenge of confronting PFAS?

What happens when chemicals used for years are deemed harmful and their use discontinued? What if those chemicals migrated into the soil and groundwater, were suddenly regulated as hazardous substances, or proposed on the Toxic Chemical list? Suppose a company diligently obtains regulatory closure then must further investigate emerging contaminants years, some decades, later. These are very real scenarios for businesses across the globe now tasked with managing and mitigating emerging contaminants.

These and other PFAS issues are garnering attention with the recent theatrical release of the legal drama Dark Waters. Inspired by true events, the film tells the story of corporate defense attorney Rob Bilott’s two-decade legal battle with a chemical company over water contamination caused by Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). These man-made, synthetic chemicals manufactured since the 1940s create one of the strongest chemical bonds in nature resulting in structures that are heat resistant, water repellant, persistent, and costly to remediate.

Levels of PFAS in the environment are a concern because of their potential negative impact on human health and the environment. The number of communities around the world impacted by PFAS contamination continues to grow at an alarming rate. The need for viable transition protocols to safer alternatives and treatment solutions to manage these contaminants is becoming more essential as regulations across the globe continue to evolve.

Since 2006, Wood’s global community of PFAS experts has focused on strategic management of PFAS across the life cycle of customer operations as well as treatment technologies and techniques to manage, mitigate, and eliminate the impacts of  these and other emerging contaminants. For communities faced with the challenge of addressing these ‘forever chemicals’, we collaborate with leading academic researchers, analytical laboratories and regulatory bodies to develop economical and time-saving responses. By considering the entire life cycle from raw material inputs through the supply chain to production and disposal, we evaluate the volume of use and release, mobility, toxicity and ultimate environmental, social and business impacts.

On a recent project to address PFAS contamination in the public water supply, Wood, along with our technology partners, evaluated new resin treatment technologies that would minimise PFAS-impacted waste volumes and reduce life cycle operation costs. The resulting first-of-its-kind treatment process uses resin filters that are regenerated in place, leaving behind a low volume, highly concentrated waste stream for disposal. Wood completed the design/build for a system currently operating in a community that will enable treatment of more than 60 million gallons of water annually, resulting in a waste stream of only 880 gallons. Another innovation saw the development of a mobile treatment system to allow for point of source treatment of spent firewater contaminated with PFAS.

The issues related to PFAS have broad-reaching effects across multiple sectors and the entire life cycle of a facility portfolio. As the number of communities facing PFAS contamination continues to grow, we are committed to identifying proactive management strategies and more effective, less costly treatment technologies to manage and mitigate the effects of emerging contaminants.

Want to learn more about techniques to investigate, treat or understand the potential risks of PFAS contamination at your site?

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Shalene Thomas
Global emerging contaminants manager

Shalene Thomas has a master’s degree in environmental science and management from Duquesne University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Western Ontario. She started her career in toxicology and risk assessment consulting and quickly expanded her expertise to create data management and visualization tools. Since 2008, she has provided her expertise on best management practices to mitigate and eliminate liabilities and challenges with the transition and clean-up of sites with PFAS contamination. Shalene now works as one of our lead technical experts for emerging contaminants, with responsibility for providing specialty consulting services to our customers and expanding our PFAS solutions through various research and development efforts.