Environmental and Biological Hazard
Toxic "Forever Chemicals"
Are You Aware of PFAS?
If Not, You Should Be!
November 7th, 2023 - by Tony Gerillo, Managing Editor - Biosolids News - OUTREACH
We are all interested in clean water, not polluting our environment and reducing our carbon footprint. This is of course, a simple statement about a quite difficult problem. It’s not surprising that there are top level environmental experts working to ensure that we meet the task. So, what exactly is the task at hand?
In 2021, the state of Maine found itself very deep in one of the most chronic and pervasive toxic chemical hazards in America and the world, the spread of organic, human made (anthropomorphic), toxic “forever chemicals” in our own water, wastewater and waste biosolids stream, known as PFAS.
Mainers are well aware of PFAS concerns, as their laws changed in 2022. Before we can discuss Maine’s situation, we need to understand PFAS.
PFAS are a large group of long-lived toxic chemicals known as per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS). (It is pronounced P-fas).
PFAS is used in manufacturing many of today’s consumer products.
It is in everything from carpet and clothing to cookware and food packaging.
In other words, it’s everywhere!
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website:
What We Know about the Health Effects of PFAS
Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:
Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity
What the U.S. Government is Doing
The EPA has developed a “PFAS Strategic Roadmap”.
You can read a very good overview here: EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap: A Year of Progress
The Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Defense (DoD) both have guides for handling PFAS. You can read those here:
Where to Go for the Latest Information on PFAS
Federal Government Resources
While the U.S. Government is taking steps necessary to mitigate the current PFAS contamination on a national level,
the states are also working to ensure the future of clean water and the environment on the state level.
Let’s get back to Maine’s predicament: NOTE: This is also the same predicament for everyone outside of Maine…
In most of the USA, land application and landfilling of biosolids (effluent sludge) by Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs) is common. It has been the least expensive alternative for disposal, keeping ratepayer’s cost down.
For many decades in the United States Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) have used
Land Application as a way to dispose of millions
of tons of biosolids waste sludge. This process has deposited PFAS toxic "forever chemicals" into the environment
Some of the chemicals are considered to being so harmful to humans that there is a zero acceptable exposure levels being considered by the EPA and state environment protection agencies.
Currently each state have their own laws and mandates for the handling of PFAS chemicals. The EPA will provide their guidance in 2024
Wet biosolids are not structural. (THINK MUD)
As additional weight (more landfill material) is placed on the lower layers of the landfill, those lower layers must be able to support the surface load. the additional moisture in the biosolids also need to drain, and surface water
penetrating the cap needs to drain to leach collection systems.
Leachate is treated, typically by the nearest Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW).
Bulking of materials and other biodegradable waste allows for structure and drainage in lower layers of the landfill.
Maine Takes Action
In the early 2020’s Maine found that the levels of various PFAS chemicals where being measured at levels beyond limits of acceptance on large parcels of land used for the land application of biosolids effluent sludge.
In 2022 Maine passed two laws, LD 1911 & LD 1639 to stop all land application of wastewater sludge.
At the time the two laws were unrelated, however the consequences of the combined laws made it impossible to remove biosolids waste from the many municipal wastewater treatment plants or WWTPs.
The WWTPs across Maine were using both landfilling and land application. Once Maine's legislature banned land application of the biosolids sludge, the WWTPs were forced to send all of their sludge to landfills.
Because biosolids sludge is more like a thick mud, it is very difficult to handle. In a landfill it must be mixed with solid waste in lower layers of the landfill so as to support the upper layers. This is mainly done with the use of bulky waste and construction demolition debris.
By implementing state law LD 1639 the landfills could not accept the new sludge that been being land applied, but also most of what they had already been accepting.
All this ended up forcing WWTPs to find new out of state facilities to ship their biosolids waste sludge. Maine's sludge eventually got shipped at tremendous costs to Newfoundland Canada.
There is some good news, Maine's legislature in 2023 passed a law LD 718 that provided a two-year study of the LD 1638 law. This gives Maine two years to fix the land application and landfill situation.
Environmental Business Council of New England
This is a good point to stop and provide you with where we came up with much of the information for this article. The Environmental Business Council of New England is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1990 as the first organization in the United States established for fostering and development of the environmental industry.
The EBCNE provides members with an array of programs, activities, and information to enable them to stay on the cutting edge of environmental and energy technologies, management and regulatory developments. Together these programs create networking opportunities that facilitate meaningful relationships between leaders in the industry.
Form more information about the EBCNE and their many upcoming programs, go to www.EBCNE.org
On October 11th, 2023, the EBCNE held this important webinar:
Biosolids News - OUTREACH was admitted as a press representative.
EBCNE Webinar: The Fluid Nature of Handling PFAS in Biosolids
While the webinar title is pointed decisively at PFAS it also covered in great depth all the concerns over land application and landfilling of biosolids sludge. This is mainly due to the high percentage of PFAS that remains with the solid matter making up the sludge.
The webinar was well organized and presented with direct attention and focus on the subject matter. There were presentations from government, science, industry and law.
Each presentation was followed by a Question & Answer session for webinar attendees to get direct answers from the expert presenters.
The webinar begins with a brilliant overview of what was to be followed by in depth presentations and discussions. The complete video is only available through the EBCNE but here is the overview excerpt.
Tim Wade, President of the Maine Water Environment Association (MeWEA) &
Emily Prescott, President Elect of the Maine Water Environment Association (MeWEA)
Introduced by: Amanda Wade of TRC Companies
The EBCNE webinar was very detailed with presentations and input from experts from across the country. It would be difficult to provide such detail in a single article. Biosolids News - OUTREACH recommends that you contact your local water authorities, city councils and public works departments to see what they are doing in your area. Keep up with the news in your state for changing laws that will mandate how your state will handle PFAS, biosolids management and complete water treatment. Remember they work for us but it's a big job and we will all have to work together.
Complete Webinar Presentations & Program Agenda:
Amanda Wade, Introduction & Moderator - TRC Companies
Steven La Rossa, Moderator - Weston & Sampson
OVERVIEW (video above)
Tim Wade, Peaks Renewables, Plant & Operations Manager - President of MeWEA
Emily Prescott, City of Saco, Planning Director - President Elect MeWEA
COST OF PFAS TREATMENT AND DISTRUCTION
Scott Kyser, Engineer - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Additional Credit for Presentation Content
Rebecca Vermace, Ali Ling & Katie Wolohan - Barr Engineering
Anna Munson - Hazen and Sawyer
Biosolids PFAS Management Takeaways
Pollution prevention is >100X more costr-effective than engineered solutions
Current biosolids management technologies don't treat or destroy PFAS
Biosolids PFAS destruction can't treat to specific PFAS target levels
PFAS biosolids destruction is technologically feasible
Current tech makes most sense for mid-size WWTPs looking to update aging infrastructure
Regionalization of PFAS biosolids technologies makes most engineering sense
Regionalization involves complex polotics, permitting and public finance
FEEDSTOCK PRECONDITIONING TO ACHIEVE MINERALIZATION
Paul Rodriguez, Director of PFAS Residuals Management - ECT2
Summary / Conclusion
Expect particle size target to be in the 0.25 to 2 mm range
As R&D continues this target may move
Screening/Debris removal conventional/proven technologies form upper end of range
Lower end of range met with high shear mixers
BIOSOLIDS STABILIZATION TECHNOLOGIES TO REDUCE OR ELIMINATE PFAS
Todd Williams, PE, BCEE, Senior Principal Technologist - Jacobs
Biosolids PFAS Management Summary Thoughts
Follow studies and regulation development
Update solids management plan
Develop flexible biosolids programs that can be modified as regulations and/or public demand require
Consider testing biosolids to understand PFAS levels
Look upstream for industries that may use PFAS (SIC search)
Factsheets are available from several sources
PFAS IMPACTS ON BIOSOLIDS RECYCLING & SLUDGE DISPOSAL
Jeff McBurnie, Environmental Manager - Cassela Resource Solutions
Sludge Management Challenges Landfill
Sludge is a relatively wet solid waste
Acceptable moisture content varies among states
Zero free liquid (paint filter test) required
Sludge itself is not stable for landfill incorporation
Must be bulked prior to placement in a cell
Bulking materials have varying levels of effectiveness and costs
Some regulatory jurisdictions have hard limits on the amount of sludge a landfill can recieve
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
Steven Larossa, Moderator - Weston & Sampson
Biosolids News - OUTREACH is a division of FENI Fusion Energy News International. Published on the Pacific Advanced and FENI websites. For information on articles or advertising please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (916) 947-2865
The Environmental Business Council of New England is not responsible for the content or structure of this article. Data, information and opinions provided from the Environmental Business Council of New England and the webinar titled "EBC Webinar: The Fluid Nature of Handling PFAS in Biosolids" are not necessarily the opinions or positions of Pacific Advanced, Biosolids News - OUTREACH and Fusion Energy News International.
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