Article highlights:

  • The paper explores the four contemporary remediation technologies for PFAS in groundwater considered by the ITRC to be ‘field demonstrated’. Three of these technologies are variants of pump-and-treat (P&T). The fourth is in situ injection of colloidal activated carbon (CAC).
  • Both P&T and in situ CAC injection are recognized as technologies for PFAS plume containment. P&T extracts PFAS from the ground, but it will not clean an aquifer in realistic timescales. A PFAS hazard therefore remains in the subsurface. PFAS will additionally be brought above-ground.
  • The principal difference between P&T and in situ CAC is the generation of wastes. P&T extracts contaminated water and produces wastes that require handling and disposal; in situ CAC injection brings no contamination aboveground and does not generate waste.
  • The potential for unintentional PFAS release throughout the lifecycle of the wastes generated by P&T is considered. Documented examples of such releases in peer-reviewed literature are cited.
  • This presents new challenges. P&T may be familiar, and may be accepted for VOCs or hydrocarbons, but PFAS are different. Unintentional releases of PFAS from P&T and its waste lifecycle are more serious. PFAS do not biodegrade and may transport and accumulate in a manner not shared by conventional contaminants. This is reflected in their typical clean up targets which may be 1000 x lower than even carcinogenic compounds such as TCE or benzene.
  • The core take-home presented by the paper is that bringing PFAS contaminated water out of the ground to be treated introduces new avenues of potential PFAS escape and exposure that risk amplifying the PFAS liability rather than reducing it. In contrast, containing a PFAS plume using in situ CAC injection generates no waste and introduces no new exposure routes.
  • The paper is published as ‘open source’. This means it can be freely downloaded and shared. A subscription to the journal is not required.
  • The paper is written by three respected senior industry professionals with impressive backgrounds in relevant areas of expertise. Their combined experience is > 100 years, and covers research, government, consulting and industry.

This article by leading environmental toxicology expert, Linda Hall, Scissortail Principal Scientist, John Wilson, PhD and REGENESIS Vice President of Environmental Technology, Jeremy Birnstingl, PhD published in the Spring issue of Remediation Journal, discusses potential PFAS exposure risks associated with Pump-and-Treat solutions to treat PFAS in groundwater. In their commentary, Hall et al. examine the potential for human exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) throughout the life cycle of various remediation technologies, focusing on four PFAS remediation methods, and specifically highlighting points in three of the technologies incorporating a Pump-and-Treat system where environmental releases may occur during handling, transport, disposal, regeneration, or destruction of remediation wastes. The authors also discuss the use of colloidal activated carbon technology applied in situ, which avoids bringing PFAS contaminants to the surface, generates zero PFAS waste, and thus eliminates PFAS risk and any potential human exposure.