Emerging Contaminants: Focus on PFAS Forum Update

After a successful forum last month, we are taking a moment to reflect on the wonderful network of professionals we have the opportunity to connect with at events like our Emerging Contaminants: Focus on PFAS Forum. The day was brimming with speakers and perspectives from across the region. The range of industry experience in the room provided us all a comprehensive understanding of current PFAS regulation, remediation technology, and strategies for addressing liability concerns related to PFAS.

The day began with an introduction to the chemistry and classification of per- and polyfluoroalklyl substances from Ginny Yingling of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Ginny provided a valuable PFAS primer for the audience, outlining the structure, naming conventions, sources, and challenges associated with addressing PFAS. Next, James Kelly of MDH shared an overview of current understanding of PFAS toxicology and human health concerns. James’ presentation provided an important grounding in how our evolving understanding of PFAS toxicology is driving public concern and conservative regulatory responses at the state level across the US. Our third speaker of the day, Gary Krueger, shared an update from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) with information about the agency’s PFAS response in the East Metro and the ongoing 3M Natural Resource Damage Settlement. Ginny, James, and Gary’s presentations established a basis for understanding PFAS toxicology, human health concerns, and analytical challenges. They provided essential context for the following speakers.

PFAS are a large class of chemicals, manufactured for use in variety of applications, including food packaging, manufacturing, water and stain resistant surfaces, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams. PFAS are highly persistent, water soluble, and bioaccumulative. Two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS) have gained particular public health attention, with EPA taking steps to define maximum contaminant levels (MCL), standardize groundwater cleanup regulations, and classify the two compounds as “hazardous substances.” However, these measures are pending, and the potential regulations would apply only to PFOA and PFOS, two of thousands in the PFAS class of chemicals. New PFAS sources and substances continue to be revealed, and more information is needed to determine the compounds’ toxicity and potential threat to human health.

In the face of this uncertainty, state and federal agencies have taken a conservative approach to the issue. Our fourth speaker of the day, Beverly Conerton of the MPCA, spoke to the regulatory and legal implications for remediation of PFAS contamination. We en ded the morning with a panel discussion in which Ward Swanson of Barr Engineering, Will Backe of MDH, and Nathan Eklund of Pace Analytical discussed some of the challenges associated with PFAS analysis.  The panelists provided valuable perspectives on the challenges faced by commercial labs, outlined alternative analytical approaches, and presented data quality considerations for before, during, and after sampling.

After lunch, we returned to the all-day forum to hear from Sandeep Burman of MDH. Sandeep continued Beverly’s discussion of regulatory measures, placing PFAS in national context and outlining the stakeholders and regulatory challenges associated with a broad class of chemicals with uncertain public health effects. Next, Shalene Thomas of Wood PLC and Steve Woodard of Emerging Compounds Treatment Technologies (ECT2) shared specific investigation and treatment case studies with a focus on remediation strategies. Shalene outlined the relationship between PFAS chemical composition and overland and secondary flow paths and transport methods, providing context for future remediation strategies. She cited the Pease Airport Base as a case study, where particular concern for public health spurred source area cleanup, a new groundwater system, and ongoing attention to residents’ health. Steve Woodard continued Shalene’s discussion of PFAS chemical composition, highlighting his work in Australia, where the ECT2 team utilizes a regenerable ion exchange resin system to remove PFAS from contaminated water.

Donovan Hannu of Bay West spoke next. He discussed the future of this emerging contaminant, outlining best practices in our current phase of uncertainty and highlighting the value of consistent internal policy, minimized liability chains, and the information we do have.

The day concluded with a panel discussion of what the future holds for PFAS regulation, investigation, and treatment between Jonathan Murer (Wood), Gary Krueger,  Sandeep Burman, Ward Swanson (Barr Engineering), Shalene Thomas, and Steve Woodard. Scott Tracy of Bay West provided closing remarks, reminding the group of the challenges we face in this phase of uncertainty and the necessity of varied perspectives and collaboration.

Thank you to all who attended the forum and contributed their expertise to this full and informative day. We look forward to reconvening in the future!

Learn more about current PFAS research from U.S. EPA and MPCA webpages. The Interstate Technology Regulatory Council provides important reference material regarding PFAS. View their fact sheets and find more information from ITRC here. More information about state-level engagement can be found on the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) websites.

For national context on the issue, watch the U.S. Senate hearing from September 26, 2018, a discussion of the federal role in the Toxic PFAS Chemical Crisis, and House Committee on Energy & Commerce hearing from September 6, 2018, “Perfluorinated Chemicals in the Environment: An Update on the Response to Contamination and Challenges Presented.” Read EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, announced February 14, 2019, here.