The dangers and scale of the ‘forever chemicals’ problem are increasingly apparent, but new technologies provide solutions by allowing companies to recycle wastewater into clean water that can be safely reused for drinking, irrigation, and industry, writes John Brockgreitens, vice president of research and development at Claros Technologies.
- The UK can learn from US leadership in regulation and remediation of ‘forever chemicals’.
- The cost of business as usual for wastewater treatment is too high, with outsized regulatory and legal risks as well public and environmental health risks.
- Cutting-edge technology allows companies to recycle wastewater into clean, safe drinking water.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals that resist grease, water and oil. There are more than 9,000 PFAS and they are used in a wide variety of products, from cookware to firefighting foams. It is the carbon-fluorine (C-F) bond — the strongest in organic chemistry — that makes PFAS so difficult to destroy and so environmentally persistent that they are called ‘forever chemicals’.
PFAS are ubiquitous and have been linked to a variety of health problems including various cancers, thyroid disease, liver damage and reproductive problems. A major mapping project found PFAS have polluted waterways, soils, and sediment at about 17,000 sites in the UK and Europe. Industrial wastewater is a major source of environmental PFAS pollution.
Calls to clean up PFAS are on the rise
Public trust in the safety of drinking water is flagging, especially in the UK. Currently, only two PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA, are regulated in the UK, where the amount allowed in drinking water is 25 times higher than those recently proposed by the US. In March 2023, President Joe Biden announced plans to lower acceptable limits in drinking water to four nanograms per litre (4ng/l) for PFOS and PFOA, in addition to proposals to regulate four additional compounds: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX. There are calls to brings UK regulations in line with the US.
Also in March, RPC’s Global Access Conference attracted lawyers from around the world to discuss the risks of environmental litigation. PFAS were at the top of the list, because of expected growth in regulations.
Just look at what is happening in the US. According to reports, more than 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits were filed in federal courts from July 2005 through March 2022. And plaintiffs are winning. DuPont, Chemours and Corteva were required to pay $4 billion for PFAS-related liabilities.
There’s also the court of public opinion. There are an increasing number of campaigns to put a stop to PFAS use in consumer goods. For example, outdoor retailer REI announced it will ban PFAS in all textile products and cookware by the fall of 2024 in response to a nationwide campaign called REI, time to ‘opt-out’ of PFAS.
Taking the waste out of wastewater
At Claros Technologies, we help stop PFAS contamination at its source. Eliminating PFAS in wastewater protects waterways from contamination and protects businesses by helping them meet — or exceed — regulatory targets, prevent litigation, and help meet sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals.
Our innovative technologies are focused on end-of-life destruction of PFAS in wastewater, leaving only naturally occurring elements. We have removed barriers to adoption by creating a PFAS-remediation system that is highly adoptable, adaptable, and cost-effective for many types of facilities.
There are three steps to PFAS management: analysis, capture and concentration, and destruction. First, the Claros Analytical Lab uses compound-specific and class-based testing methods such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft method for adsorbable organic fluorine (AOF). Our in-depth analysis allows us to highly customize remediation strategies.
Second, we employ capture and concentration methods that work well with a variety of existing filtration systems such as ion resin, reverse osmosis, and foam fractionation. This critical step reduces millions of gallons of wastewater into a few gallons of PFAS concentrate.
Last, the final technology to truly destroy PFAS is most important. In this step we use a proprietary photochemical process to destroy PFAS, achieving true defluorination. It is the only technology of its kind that destroys long-chain, short-chain, and ultra-short-chain compounds. This process is wholly traceable, which protects the environment from pollution and protects businesses from latent and future liabilities.
Recycling protects water resources
Protecting waterways will take a two-pronged approach: reduce manufacture and use of PFAS and destroy PFAS-laden wastewater in a manner that does not produce further risks. New technologies such as those provided by Claros Technologies can help businesses operate in a circular economy and instill confidence that recycled wastewater can be safely used without any harm to human or environmental health.