Efforts to stem the potential harmful effects of the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ have started to gain traction among experts, decision makers, and other stakeholders in the wastewater and water management industries both in the UK and around the world.

In recent years, Per & Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have become a growing concern for their widespread presence in water, air, sediment, wildlife, and humans at low levels, as well as their persistent, long-range transport capabilities. PFAS are a group of chemicals which are divided into two families, polymer and non-polymers compounds, comprising of a broad group of several thousand chemicals.

Used since the 1940s, PFAS are by design very stable compounds, chemically resistant to oxidation, making them very difficult to break down. Partial breakdown of these compounds to shorter chain variants can be an even bigger concern as these can be new unknown molecules with equivalent or worse toxicity; requiring novel analysis, quantification and remediation approaches.

The most common use of these PFAS compounds is found in some firefighting foams (aqueous film forming foam or AFFF), coating fabrics and textiles, to make non-stick surfaces, paints, polishes and waxes. Because they are water soluble, environmentally persistent and stable, PFAS are very mobile in the environment and, as evidence shows, are known to impact drinking water supplies. Some PFAS compounds have been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, and low birth rate, among other illnesses.

While the regulatory landscape for PFAS is both complex and fragmented, there is a concerted global effort to build and enforce regulations worldwide. In recent years, monitoring, regulations, and even bans have been kickstarted by various governments and regulatory bodies including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union, the International Stockholm Convention, and the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments’ Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency.

The question of how to keep pace with the rapidly evolving requirements is made even more difficult due to the wide range of advisory limits set by different authorities. Testing equipment limitations and sampling contamination pose a challenge. The lack of toxicological studies on PFAS is also a concern with the need to further develop our understanding of both acute and chronic toxicity.

One of the key steps that the industry can take is to measure and understand where they stand with regards to the advisory limits. Then, they can develop mitigation plans way before these limits become regulatory compliance requirements.

Addressing the PFAS challenge needs a well-structured and though-out approach. All PFAS chemicals are not the same and require customised management solutions. SUEZ, a key player in environmental services, is at the forefront of meeting PFAS challenges with its bespoke solutions for its wide range of clients. PFAS contamination can have a direct impact on water utilities and water management companies, and their customers’ health ultimately.

Those that don’t understand the impacts of PFAS to their businesses need proper guidance on how to navigate the complex path to PFAS mitigation. Besides business and process assessments, they require sampling and analysis to identify specific PFAS compounds, which will allow them to identify suitable mitigation routes. Quick solutions, can be validated via laboratory scale testing and piloting, resulting in the development of robust and reliable scaled-up industrial solutions. Importantly, solutions need to be technically and commercially viable and future proofed.

SUEZ is doing this for its customers using the four-element solution development approach — diagnosis, monitoring, remediation, and control. SUEZ has validated and developed its methods based on USEPA 537.1 and USEPA 533. With the recent introduction of the draft USEPA 1633 method for non-potable water and other environmental media, SUEZ ensures that good practices outlined in the method are reflected. It has also developed its targeted methods focusing on the list of PFAS compounds outlined in the Environment Agency Chief Scientist’s Group report of August 2021. Furthermore, customers are supported from the start, all throughout the business impact analysis and development of tailored solutions.

As an environmental company, the SUEZ goal is the complete remediation, removal, and safe disposal of PFAS contamination from water, soil, and air worldwide. With a well-coordinated and united global effort, plus close, multi-tiered partnerships across governments and industries, the PFAS menace has a good chance of being contained, if not booted out of existence..