Capaccio recently attended a webinar “PFAS: All Things Air” presented by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC). The webinar was very informative and provided some insight into current research efforts and future expectations around airborne PFAS. Read on to hear our takeaways.
The presenters included:
- Frank Ricciardi, PE, LSP; CEO, Weston & Sampson
- Matt Traister, PE; Vice President, Ramboll
- Chase Holton, PhD, PE; Senior Engineer, GSI Environmental Inc.
- Gary Hunt, Vice President/Technical Director, TRC
- Brian Schumacher, Ph.D.; Director, Ecosystem Processes Division Center for Environmental Measurement and Modeling Office of Research and Development U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Charles Neslund, Scientific Officer and PFAS Practice Leader, Eurofins Laboratory.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are synthetic organofluorine chemical compounds that have multiple fluorine atoms attached to an alkyl chain. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) toxicity database, DSSTox, lists 14,735 unique PFAS chemical compounds, while PubChem lists approximately 6 million. PFAS compounds are used in products and materials due to their water-resistant properties, such as Teflon and aqueous film forming foam (OECD, 2021; Wang et al, 2021).
These persistent organic pollutants have been dubbed one of the new “forever chemicals” (Elton, 2023) because they bioaccumulate, are resistant to natural degradation, and can cause a variety of adverse health effects in humans including an increased risk of dyslipidemia (abnormally high cholesterol), suboptimal antibody response, reduced infant and fetal growth, and higher rates of kidney cancer (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2022).
PFAS in Air Emissions
Airborne PFAS are globally distributed and commonly found in ambient air (Hunt, 2023). When airborne, PFAS compounds exist in what is referred to as gas-phase PFAS. Due to the micro-scale size of these particles, they are easily dispersed along with other emissions from point sources, and easily absorbed into groundwater and soil (Traister, Hunt, 2023). Once these gas-phase PFAS compounds reach soil and groundwater, they are further distributed by these vehicles.
While PFAS emissions are usually reported as point source emissions, there is some question as to whether a reporting entity is the original source of 100% of their PFAS emissions to the atmosphere. In addition to indoor air quality concerns, vapor intrusion is a means for gas-phase PFAS to enter buildings through soil vapor and groundwater which results in emissions from that building that may have been originally dispersed from another point source (Holton, Schumacher, 2023).
Challenges and Future Expectations
Because research on these compounds is still ongoing, there are no official sampling and testing methods defined by the EPA. However, there are some testing methods available that have been adapted to fit the needs of PFAS sampling. These methods are not a perfect science and additional testing methods are needed (and may soon be available) to measure a larger swath of PFAS from point sources (Riccardi et al, 2023).
While some states have used this early data to establish rudimentary emissions reporting requirements and limits, the EPA currently has required reporting of PFAS emissions through the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) Section 313, Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). TRI data will provide the EPA and other stakeholders with a better estimate of the magnitude of PFAS emissions in our communities (Riccardi et al, 2023). Through data received from reporting, we can expect to see states and the EPA fine-tune their requirements around PFAS emissions and reporting soon.
As we learn more about these compounds, what their sources are, and how to monitor emissions, we can expect to see sampling and testing methods, mitigation strategies and technologies, and reporting requirements and thresholds emerge and become standardized.
Ask about how Capaccio can help your company get ahead of the curve on emissions guidelines and reporting.
“PFAS structures in DSSTox (update August 2022)”. CompTox Chemicals Dashboard. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Retrieved 19 May 2023. “List consists of all DTXSID records with a structure assigned, and using a set of substructural filters based on community input.”
“PubChem Classification Browser – PFAS and Fluorinated Compounds in PubChem Tree”. pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. NBCI. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
OECD (2021). “Reconciling Terminology of the Universe of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Recommendations and Practical Guidance” (PDF). OECD Series on Risk Management. Paris: OECD Publishing. p. 23. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
Wang Z, Buser AM, Cousins IT, Demattio S, Drost W, Johansson O, et al. (December 2021). “A New OECD Definition for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances”. Environmental Science & Technology. 55 (23). Retrieved 19 May 2023.
Elton, Charlotte (24 February 2023). “‘Frightening’ scale of Europe’s forever chemical pollution revealed”. euronews. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
“New Report Calls for Expanded PFAS Testing for People With History of Elevated Exposure, Offers Advice for Clinical Treatment”. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). 28 July 2022. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
“PFAS: All Things Air Emerging Contaminants Webinar Series”. Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC). Presenters: Frank Ricciardi, PE, LSP, CEO Weston & Sampson; Matt Traister, PE, Vice President Ramboll; Chase Holton, PhD, PE, Senior Engineer, GSI Environmental Inc.; Gary Hunt, Vice President/Technical Director TRC; Brian Schumacher, Ph.D., Director, Ecosystem Processes Division Center for Environmental Measurement and Modeling Office of Research and Development U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Charles Neslund, Scientific Officer and PFAS Practice Leader, Eurofins Laboratory. 2 May 2023.