Ahead of the virtual World Water-Tech North America Summit on October 5-6, we caught up with Shalene Thomas, VP Global Emerging Contaminants at Wood about the future cost of PFAS treatment, the regulatory framework and collaborating with stakeholders to drive change.
What does the future cost of PFAS treatment look like and how is it set to change?
The projected cost to clean-up PFAS is in the tens of billions of dollars. Given the prevalence of PFAS in the environment from groundwater to surface water, substantial funding will be required for treatment to reduce concentrations in our drinking water sources. In February, Global Water Intelligence estimated that water utilities in the US alone will spend more than $4 billion on PFAS treatment systems for drinking water. In the near term, our focus on eliminating complete exposure pathways from these contaminated sources should be a priority to protect human health as we drive to thoughtfully develop, test, and deploy sustainable treatment solutions for the long-term. Although many are anxious to shift the focus to broader remediation goals, future costs of treatment are estimates at best and changes to the definition of the contaminants included in the PFAS class, the regulatory drivers at the Federal and State levels, and on-going development of both removal and destruction treatment technologies are all factors in determining cost implications in the future. Interim solutions will need to carefully balance these dynamic factors as each individually as well as collectively have potential impacts. We need to have the patience to let science drive the process.
How will the evolving regulatory framework around PFOA and PFOS impact these costs?
The regulatory framework for PFAS is moving forward more quickly at the Federal level this year and continues to change quickly at the State level across the US. The EPA has been working on maximum contaminant level (MCL) determinations for drinking water standards, for two of the most prominent and best understood chemicals, PFOS and PFOA. Earlier this month, they announced a more broadly defined group of PFAS will be considered under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). As with any contaminant or contaminant class that has promulgated drinking water standards, the drivers to respond shift from voluntary guidelines to mandatory actions. Federal leadership is long-overdue and will bring some clarity, consistency, and way-forward to more cost effectively address treatment. With MCL promulgation anticipated within the next two to three years, there is an opportunity to optimize existing treatment technologies and further validate developing technologies within that timeframe.
How can we bring together stakeholders from across the watershed to drive change for PFAS?
Federal funding for PFAS-related programs is being considered by Congress both as stand-alone bills and as part of larger infrastructure and other proposed plans. These potential funding sources and flexibility for spending at the State levels, provide a unique opportunity to be future-ready. They will advance the ability to move from reactive responses to proactive planning by considering not only individual community water systems but rather as a collective, including all those who may rely on a single source or watershed. Many PFAS are highly soluble and mobile, and they know no boundaries within a watershed. We should attempt to develop solutions that are more holistic and inclusive to match their behavior.
What connections are important for you to make at the World Water-Tech North America Summit, and how does connection and partnership benefit your own organisation and the industry at large?
The challenges we face in managing water are complex and far-reaching and we need new answers to transform these challenges into solutions. For me, the value of the Summit is not only the individual connections made but rather the collaboration and sharing of ideas across industries. I look forward to the roundtable events that represent this cross pollination of utility, industrial, academic, technology, and consulting partners. Our best ideas are often thought of when we can look at the same issue from the other end of the binoculars.
Join Shalene Thomas at the virtual summit and tune into her panel discussion on ‘PFAS: The Ultimate One Water Contaminant’ on October 6 at 10.10am PT.