SUEZ Water - Water Technologies & Water

PFAS Remediation

PFAS stands for Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances. These widely spread, toxic compounds, are estimated to be found in up to 10% of the drinking water supplies in the USA

SUEZ – Water Technologies & Solutions has developed and introduced a range of removal and remediation technologies to address contamination in each of the industrial, military, and municipal applications encountered across the world. Our range of technologies is unmatched in breadth, capability, and ability to be tailored to specific situations, at the lowest possible capital and operating expenditure.

PFAS Remediation

PFAS stands for Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances. These widely spread, toxic compounds, are estimated to be found in up to 10% of the drinking water supplies in the USA

SUEZ – Water Technologies & Solutions has developed and introduced a range of removal and remediation technologies to address contamination in each of the industrial, military, and municipal applications encountered across the world. Our range of technologies is unmatched in breadth, capability, and ability to be tailored to specific situations, at the lowest possible capital and operating expenditure.

Overview

PFAS has become one of the top drinking water contaminant issues of the 2010s decade, surpassing other continuing concerns such as Hex Chrom; Perchlorate; Nitrate, Pesticide, MTBE (Methyl tert-butyl ether gasoline additive), Arsenic, PCBs, and endocrine disrupters. The rapidly growing number of scientific citations and articles in the popular press indicate alarm and concern across the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union.

In the typical process, our PFAS specialist will visit your site and take a number of water samples, as well as understand your specific situation, water balance, regulatory constraints, discharge needs, process flow, and future plans. Within a few days, we can present a custom-tailored solution for your specific water and situation. Often the solution may be a combination of technologies. In the event of an emergency, we can deliver an off-the-shelf solution, usually within a few days, with fine-tuning to be done later as your time permits.

Download our customer benefits and water data needed fact sheet here.

How it Works

Perfluoro Alkyl substances come in many varieties. While there are an estimated 4700 (and growing) different types of these compounds, the ones of most concern are typically chains of 4-9 carbon atoms, fully saturated with fluorine, terminating in either a sulfonate or carboxylic moiety, or functional group. Some of the most common PFASs and their abbreviations are: Sulfonic Acids/Sulfonates: - PFBS – perfluoro butanesulfonic acid - PFHxS – perfluorohexane sulfonic acid 8 - PFOS - perfluorooctane sulfonic acid Carboxylic Acids: - PFBA – perfluoro butanoic acid - PFHxA - perfluorohexanoic acid - PFHpA – perfluoro heptanoic acid - PFOA – perfluorooctanoic acid - PFNA - perfluorononanoic acid

This class of compounds has been around for over 60 years and was originally developed by organic chemists in search of better performing surfactants in certain applications. The three most common classes of applications are firefighting foams, surface-active agents in consumer products, and surface-active agents in manufacturing. Firefighting foams using PFAS form an excellent film for the suppression of liquid hydrocarbon-fueled fires. The foam coats the liquid fuel and smothers the fire. Consumer products use PFAS for oil resistance in food packaging, and for stain resistance in fabric and leather. Manufacturing applications include emulsifiers, wetting agents, and constituents of coating materials. The dual lipo-phobic and hydrophobic characteristics of the PFAS molecule confer superior performance in these applications.

Substitution of non-PFAS surfactant materials or alternately, a program of careful use, handling, recovery and destruction are warranted. Incineration of the material is the gold standard of treatment of material that is removed from water or sludge. If incineration is not possible, then concentration and a method of permanent sequestration are called for. Although landfill is still allowed in some jurisdictions, this practice is expected to reduce in frequency, in favor of more permanent and less risky alternatives. The key emerging areas of treatment are:

  • legacy sites: Remediation of firefighting sites, Remediation of military sites, Remediation of industrial discharge sites
  • ongoing use cases: Treatment of drinking water that has been contaminated with PFAS, Cleanup of municipal wastewater treatment water, prior to discharge (recycling back into the environment), Cleanup of industrial wastewater prior to being discharged into a receiving body, Treatment of the newer classes of PFASs that have not yet had their safety determined

FAQs

Frequently asked questions about PFAS 


What is PFAS?

 

PFAS is an acronym for either Perfluoroalkyl Substances or Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. Typically, the term PFAS is used to refer to a broad range of man-made organic molecules containing a short to long chain of carbon atoms. The carbon atoms are bonded with fluorine atoms which is the key to the material properties. From a chemistry point of view, the substances are typically C4 to C9 (meaning 4 carbons or 9 carbons) usually straight chain, but sometimes branched chain of carbon atoms. PFAS materials are included within the much larger class of compounds called fluorinated organic molecules, or simply fluorocarbons. While it is estimated there are over 5000 types of PFAS molecules, there are twenty are of the most concern. These include the (now familiar) sulfonic acids and carboxylic PFAS compounds listed below, together with their number of carbon atoms:

  • Sulfonic Acids/Sulfonates:
    • 4 - PFBS – perfluoro butanesulfonic acid
    • 6 - PFHxS – perfluorohexane sulfonic acid
    • 8 - PFOS - perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (or sulfonate)
  • Carboxylic Acids:
    • 4 - PFBA – perfluoro butanoic acid
    • 6 - PFHxA - perfluorohexanoic acid
    • 7 - PFHpA – perfluoro heptanoic acid
    • 8 - PFOA – perfluorooctanoic acid
    • 9 - PFNA - perfluorononanoic acid

 

Why does PFAS exist?

This special class of compounds was invented about 60 years ago and found to confer superior benefits in a broad variety of applications.  The most important application has been as an active ingredient in fire fighting foams.  The product, when mixed with water, can suppress a hydrocarbon fueled fire better than any other known substance.  For endeavors that deal with high quantities of fuel, such as aviation, the military, fuel pipelines, and depots, a good firefighting foam is indispensable.  The molecule is both hydrophobic and paradoxically, lipophobic.  It does not “like” either water or oil.  Therefore in use, it immediately migrates to the interface between fuel and air, smothering and suppressing a fire.  Its foam spreads faster than any other known substance to suppress these fires.  Other applications include stain coatings for carpet, clothing, and outdoor gear, together with grease-resistant coatings for packaging

How do you treat PFAS?

 

PFAS can be removed from water by one of three techniques:  Selective Ion Exchange Resins, Carbon Adsorption, and Membrane separation called Reverse Osmosis or Nanofiltration.  Each technique has advantages and disadvantages, as outlined in the brochure table, shown nearby. Factors that will influence the approach will be water constituents, co-contaminants in the water such as suspended solids, organic contamination, other related fluorinated compounds, and the various dissolved solids; regulatory and discharge constraints; permitting concerns; removal media availability and suitability; footprint—space--availability; decisions around lease versus capital purchase; preferences for operating versus capital budget; energy availability and consumption, and more.

 

How do I know if my water has PFAS? 

To determine the level and type(s) of PFAS in a water supply, a careful sample must be sent to a lab with the equipment and processes to measure.  The US EPA has documented laboratory methods for analyzing PFAS called EPA Method 537.1.  Many labs in the US and around the world can perform the test.  Up to 25 PFAS compounds (the list is growing)  can be identified using this method, typically with a lead time of 1 to 2 weeks.  The lab method used is Liquid Chromatography followed by tandem Mass Spectrometry.  Results are typically reported in Parts per Trillion, or ppt.  Before testing, in the USA, it is worthwhile to check with the EPA web site devoted to the UCMR, or unregulated contaminant monitoring rule.  The site contains test results for thousands of locations around the USA and is in frequent use by Municipalities, the Military, and Industry as cleanup efforts are initiated

How do you dispose of and destruct PFAS?

 

The PFAS that are collected in purification systems are concentrated and captured on special filtration media.  This media must be removed from service and shipped to an incineration unit that burns the PFAS at high temperatures.  High-temperature incineration breaks the carbon-fluorine bond, destroys the PFAS and turns the fluorine into a fluoride ion in a process called “mineralization”.   Once mineralized, the fluoride can be treated further as required.

 

Will pending legislation impact how PFAS can be treated?

Congress, the EPA and State Departments of Environmental Protection are actively working on new laws that would limit the use and/or discharge of PFAS materials.  In many applications,  they will be replaced with compounds that are not per- or poly-fluorinated.  In situations where human life and safety require their continued use, such as dangerous liquid hydrocarbon fires aboard military ships and on land, we expect prudent use and careful cleanup is likely to be enforced to avoid subsequent environmental contamination.  In the meantime, the EPA, the Military, and State departments are actively assessing water supplies around the country to ensure that wherever the population is at risk, both immediate short and long term solutions are implemented to provide safe, clean water.  Fortunately, as we have seen with PFOA, and PFOS, which have been out of production for over 10 years, the concentrations in the blood of the population are coming down significantly, indicating that clearance, though slow, is possible.

 

Products & Services

SUEZ has extensive experience in the supply of equipment, chemicals and service to the remediation, cleanup, and drinking water markets. More specifically, we have applied media, resin and membrane technology to a variety of challenges in producing safe, clean potable water. We have developed and introduced a range of removal and remediation technologies to address contamination in each of the industrial, military, and municipal applications encountered across the world. Our technologies include: