PFAS in the Regulatory Spotlight
Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals used for over fifty years in various applications. Some typical PFAS applications include aqueous film-forming foams and a super-surfactant for textiles. PFAS chemicals are characterised by chemical and thermal stability and solubility, preventing chemical breakdown or degradation and, therefore, persistence in the environment.
PFAS has since moved into the regulatory spotlight due to potential impacts on human health. There is no clear evidence to indicate health problems in humans, although animal studies have highlighted that it cannot be ruled out. As such, a precautionary approach is being applied with an increase in regulatory scrutiny and higher levels of governance and management around PFAS related activities. Included is the adoption of conservative human consumption and environmental guidelines, as well as a severe lowering of detection limits for PFAS compounds.
PFAS Impacts on the Waste Industry
Landfills and waste management facilities are known to contain levels of PFAS contamination by virtue of the waste materials received. The risk exists that PFAS compounds may migrate from the site into the unsaturated zone and eventually into groundwater. The risk is heightened with aged, unlined landfill facilities. Accordingly, approvals/licences for landfills and other waste management facilities are being modified to trigger the need for PFAS detection monitoring in groundwater, surface water and leachate.
The result of these monitoring requirements has been a higher demand on laboratories for PFAS testing. Laboratory testing methods are developing to achieve lower detection of PFAS chemicals, some to “ultra-trace” levels. The result is detection limits of 200 – 2,000 PPT (parts per trillion).
When undertaking PFAS analysis to ultra-trace levels, intense scrutiny on field monitoring and sample recovery processes are required to ensure sample integrity and security. With these constraints firmly in mind, at ATC Williams, we’ve been upgrading our field procedures and processes to significantly reduce any risk of incidental introduction of PFAS into the sampling environment that may otherwise cause false-positive results.
Given the ubiquitous nature of PFAS compounds, this journey has included numerous audits and ongoing improvement of monitoring protocols, directly aligned to the continuous improvement demanded of our partner laboratories to achieve lower detection levels and higher levels of data accuracy.
Growing Service Capability at ATC Williams
Our environmental monitoring team at ATC Williams is exceptionally well placed to provide our clients with quality and reliable monitoring outcomes for PFAS monitoring in groundwater. Coupled with leading hydrogeological and contaminant transport expertise, we provide representative interpretation of PFAS detection and potential fate in any groundwater environment.
In response to concerns around PFAS, we continue to grow our services in environmental monitoring, particularly surface water, groundwater and soils. Our specific capabilities in this area include:
- Hydrogeological investigation and groundwater characterisation;
- Siting, design and installation of groundwater bores;
- Environmental monitoring program design and plan preparation;
- Water quality monitoring (surface water, groundwater and leachate);
- Landfill gas (LFG) monitoring;
- Environmental data interpretation including contaminant transport analysis; and,
- Compliance assessments and review.
Please contact the ATC Williams waste management team for additional information on PFAS monitoring and services.