As we get closer to the World Water-Tech North America Summit in Los Angeles, Sally Gutierrez, Senior Advisor (CESER) at the US EPA reveals how the governmental organization is tackling PFAS and creating new and innovative technologies to eliminate forever chemicals. 

When it comes to PFAS detection and elimination, how is your organisation tackling this issue?
Scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) are developing methods and approaches to detect and measure PFAS in the environment. Researchers have developed methods to measure individual PFAS in water (drinking water, wastewater, ground, and surface water), air, and land (soils, sediments, biosolids). Researchers are currently working to develop “total PFAS” methods, with a draft method available for wastewater. ORD also continues to advance non-targeted analysis, which use high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify known and unknown components of a sample.

Scientists in ORD are also evaluating technologies for reducing PFAS in the environment. Researchers are studying how effective various treatment technologies are at removing PFAS from drinking water and wastewater. Researchers are also studying the effectiveness of different approaches and technologies for disposing and destroying PFAS, with a focus on landfills, thermal treatment and non-thermal destruction.

What innovative technologies do you see playing a role in the destruction of ‘forever chemicals’ and what do you think this will look like in the future?
Currently, activated carbon and single-use ion exchange resins are the most used sorbents to remove PFAS from water. Yet these conventional sorbents have critical deficiencies, such as low affinity toward short-chain PFAS, and are impacted by background organic and inorganic constituents. The recent advancements in the development of PFAS-selective adsorbents now offer the possibility of short- and long-chain PFAS treatment using regenerable sorbents such as cyclodextrin polymers and amine-functionalized materials. However, treatment cost will need to be evaluated.

Given current available data, the treatment of PFAS-impacted waters may necessitate a treatment train approach. Such applications may consist of a separation step (e.g., adsorption or nanofiltration) followed by a destruction process applied to the adsorbents, retentate, and/or regeneration solutions. EPA’s PFAS Innovative Treatment Team (PITT) has identified some technologies for PFAS destruction, including Electrochemical Oxidation, Mechanochemical Degradation, Pyrolysis and Gasification, and Supercritical Water Oxidation.

In addition, most public and regulatory attentions have so far focused on anionic PFAS with carboxylate or sulfonate polar groups, but zwitterionic and cationic polar groups are also found among PFAS. These emerging classes of PFAS requires more detailed studies to ensure the removal of the whole ‘PFAS class’ from our waters. Removing PFAS from water and ultimately degrading them into products that lack carbon-fluorine bonds would be the ideal goal for decontaminating our water resources to avoid further concerns.

Hear more from Sally at the World Water-Tech North America Summit. She will join a panel discussion on  ‘Innovative Wastewater Treatment for More Sustainable Water Systems’ on September 29 at 10.15am PT.