What are PFAS Chemicals, and Why Do They Matter?

Sep 15, 2021

As a leading environmental firm, Atlas is committed to supporting our clients’ needs with sustainable PFAS solutions that are consistent with evolving regulatory changes and how those changes may affect their risk-based decisions.

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals that contain linked chains of carbon and fluorine. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” the bond between carbon and fluorine atoms is one of the strongest in nature – making PFAS chemicals difficult to remediate and remove.

PFAS chemicals have been used in various industrial and commercial applications and consumer products since the 1940s, including non-stick cookware, waterproofing materials, and firefighting foam. While their unique stability and resistance to degradation ensure durable, long lasting consumer products, their pervasive nature also leads to significant environmental challenges. Because the chemicals have been used in products for decades, most people have been exposed to them through the food we eat, or from contaminated drinking water and can cause potential adverse health effects.

The ability of PFAS to bio-accumulate in the environment, coupled with its high mobility, have led to persistent contamination concerns. The introduction of PFAS into wastewater and solid waste has led to further distribution of PFAS into rivers and streams, surface water, and sludge applied to land.

While most advanced laboratories can identify up to 70 PFAS chemicals, thousands of PFAS chemicals are known to exist.  The PFAS class of chemicals continues to expand as manufacturers and laboratories identify and create replacement PFAS chemicals.

The absence of a comprehensive federal policy regarding PFAS chemicals creates challenges for many environmental lifecycle stages, including property transactions, investigation, treatment, waste handling and disposal, and litigation.

Although the use of certain PFAS chemicals has been discontinued, legacy uses, unregulated imported products, and a lack of commercially viable alternatives to certain public safety products (e.g., firefighting foams) will continue to present ongoing environmental issues and human health concerns.

Scientific research into human and environmental health concerns is considered a critical first step toward regulating PFAS chemicals.  This research can take years to complete and continues to lag behind the manufacturing and industrial waste that comes from their use. As a result, regulation has either been delayed, as is the case at the federal level, or has been pursued with intentional conservatism, which is the case in some states.

The EPA recently announced plans for new wastewater regulations, including first limits for PFAS, and updated limits for nutrients – from key industries. The new Preliminary Plan 15, identifies opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution.

For the last five years, our team of scientists and geologists at Atlas have specialized in providing site investigations and innovative treatment solutions for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Our services include:

  • Public Supply and Private Drinking Water Sampling
  • Groundwater, Surface Water, Soil, & Sediment Sampling
  • Stormwater Treatment Design
  • Design of Poet Systems – Private and Public Supply
  • Landfill Monitoring Services
  • Forensic Analysis
  • Standard Operating Procedures & Best Practices

For more information on how Atlas addresses PFAS challenges, read more >>

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