Changing Biosolid Technology to Safely Remove PFAS Chemicals
Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are ubiquitous. Known as “forever chemicals,” the man-made carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds found in nature. PFAS is fast to build up in humans, animals and the environment and very difficult to break down. These substances were developed in the 1940s and 50s and applied to products that range from cookware to dental floss. PFASs are oil and water repellent, fire suppressant, non-stick and stain resistant. Consequently, PFAS chemicals are found in everything from clothing and household items to agriculture, food and food packaging and drinking water. PFASs are even found in breastmilk and 98% of human bloodstreams.
Admittedly, the health risks of PFAS exposure were underreported even though manufacturers conducted studies that found these substances caused thyroid, liver, kidney and spleen problems, immune deficiencies, fertility issues, cancers and more.
After over six decades of PFAS chemical use, it has recently come to the attention of scientists, the public and policy makers that PFASs are harmful to the environment and human health. As a result, in 2021 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated they are taking “bold actions” to push for stricter regulations and formal protocols to manage the remediation of these pollutants.
One of the fastest ways these contaminants have spread to food, water and human bloodstreams is from the application of PFAS contaminated biosolids to farmland, urban landscaping and garden fertilizers. Authorities can help mitigate the widespread dissemination of these pervasive chemicals by amending 40 CFR Part 503 and implementing streamlined modern technology that improves waste management systems.PFAS Chemicals on Farmland, in Food & Livestock
When PFAS chemicals were developed and integrated into manufacturing processes, they made their way into the nation’s sewers and wastewater treatment plants. Sewage was stabilized, treated for known chemicals, then mixed with material and packaged as fertilizer before it became a biosolid that was spread across American farmlands, used in urban areas and sold in farm and garden supply stores for homeowners and gardeners. Spreading biosolid compost on farmland was beneficial for adding nitrogen and replenishing soil with nutrients. It’s a process that has been in practice in America since the 1920s. The issue is the EPA was not aware of the dangers of PFASs when implementing standards for the use and disposal of sewage sludge in the 1990s. In fact, PFAS chemicals were not even required to be reported to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, founded in 1986, until recently.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than half of America’s sludge is spread on fields and cropland. A recent report asserts that roughly 20 million acres of farmland in the United States may be contaminated with PFAS as a result of biosolid application. According to EPA records, more than 19 billion pounds of sewage sludge has been spread across American farms and used as fertilizer since 2016. And that number only reflects the 41 states where sewage sludge use is tracked.
Only two states in the U.S. began testing for PFAS chemicals. Data suggests that Maine began testing for PFOS in dairy in 2019 and it appears that Michigan began testing for PFAS in their water in April 2018.
In Maine, after disturbing reports found high levels of PFAS in milk, more than 700 high risk properties in the state are being tested for potential contamination. Farmers have had to pull their products off the shelves, euthanize their livestock, and are fearful of future illness as a result of exposure to a high concentration of these toxins. Some farms have allegedly felt pressure to hide evidence of contamination because they fear for their livelihoods. As a result of the environmental and human health and safety concerns, policy makers in Maine banned biosolid applications from farmlands altogether.Overhauling the Biosolid Treatment Process
As the first state to ban biosolids in farming, other states are enacting similar bans and PFAS specific bans of their own. However, a ban on biosolids for agricultural applications causes a bigger issue— What happens to the waste? Biosolid agricultural applications are an inexpensive way for municipalities to recycle solid waste in a way that benefits agricultural and horticultural processes.
It’s safe to say that PFAS chemicals are in all biosolids, so wastewater treatment plants need a sustainable approach to waste disposal and landfills are not the solution. Landfills are running out of room and landfill disposal comes with economic and environmental costs. The process of transporting solid waste adds labor, fuel and infrastructure costs. Disposal fees range from $54 to $72 dollars per ton and soft costs such as carbon emissions from transportation, greenhouse gasses, land use and more are additional expenses on taxpayers.
Incineration of biosolids laden with PFAS isn’t the best option as it has the potential to release by products of the chemicals into the atmosphere where they can travel miles away from the incineration plant.
3M, one of the manufacturers of PFAS and PFOS, propose containment and capping of PFAS contaminated soil and sludges to prevent rainwater from driving the chemicals into groundwater. They currently have sites in Minnesota and Alabama that are holding PFAS contaminated material. But adopting containment and capping is not a sustainable or practical waste management solution as it creates brownfield superfund sites that will eventually require site remediation to accommodate population growth.
A proactive and sustainable response to treating biosolids is to amend the Environmental Protection Agency’s CFR 40 Part 503 Rule, “Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge.” Amendments to the stabilization process should include a PFAS treatment phase of the biosolids, eliminating the chemicals from the material so it meets Class A, Exceptional Quality, standards and can continue to be used for agricultural and horticultural application without special site requirements.Advanced Remediation Technology Safely Eliminates PFAS
Iron Creek Group’s advanced remediation Tech Zero technology is proven to remove 99.9% of PFAS contaminants. Tech Zero is a patented one-step treatment application that eliminates organic contaminants from soils and sludges, volatilizing and destroying PFASs without incineration and without releasing the chemicals into the air.
Building Tech Zero fixed facilities within wastewater treatment plants provides an effective way for municipalities to eliminate PFAS and other organic contaminants within limits of detection from sewage sludges while meeting stringent environmental regulations. The streamlined design allows for swift setup and operation, offering waste management facilities guaranteed remedial endpoints, fixed timelines and budgets.
The PFAS are destroyed through a conduction, convection, oxidation, and vaporization process. The technology can be powered by a range of fuels including propane, biomass, hydrogen and solar and has nearly 100% thermal efficiency.
Policy makers and corporations need solutions now to mitigate future environmental damage and risks to human health and safety. With Iron Creek Group’s technology, it’s not only possible to eliminate 99.9% of PFAS contaminants, but to do so in a way that is safe, efficient and cost effective, eliminating all future environmental liability.
Eliminate PFASs from biosolids at waste management plants to prevent the spread of “forever chemicals” across farmlands.
About Iron Creek Group
Serving North America, Iron Creek Group specializes in developing innovative, nimble technology that solves complex environmental issues. Learn how they’re leveraging technology to challenge the existing remediation paradigm by visiting, https://www.ironcreekgroup.com
For questions and further information, please email Ken Bell: email@example.com.
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