Frequently Asked Questions About PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have become a growing topic of focus in the media as communities work to prioritize solutions to the challenges these contaminants present. But what are PFAS? Is exposure harmful? How can Veolia help solve PFAS issues in North America? We have put together answers to frequently asked questions like these and others below.
How can Veolia help solve PFAS issues in North America?
Veolia continues to take comprehensive, prudent and proactive steps to meet or surpass enforceable standards set for public drinking water supplies or wastewater systems and invest considerable resources to introduce effective, emerging technology that addresses changing regulatory standards set by health officials. Veolia will not only continue to work closely with governing agencies but will prioritize its role in helping to advance solutions that further protect the community’s health.
Solving water quality issues like PFAS is a journey that begins with strong partnerships. Veolia is committed to being a good corporate citizen in the communities that it serves, taking an active role in preserving water quality while improving public and environmental health.
The company is available to any community that faces technical challenges adapting to the rapidly evolving regulatory landscape for PFAS in the environment. Whether it is a drinking water system that must ensure public health, a wastewater system that must adhere to environmental regulations or an industrial plant that needs to secure the optimum performance of its treatment processes, Veolia has considerable resources, technology, and expertise at hand. The company stands ready and willing to work with municipalities and industrial partners to use available technologies to address technical challenges wherever they may occur.
The company’s “end-to-end” solution process begins with our experts sampling and analyzing the water, identifying treatment needs at specific sites and testing state-of-the-art technology options in advance of required installation. The solution process continues with a treatability review, a pilot study, and then construction and operation. The cycle comes full circle by additional monitoring and testing to ensure regulatory standards are met. Installation of interim, mobile solutions can be implemented if needed to treat certain types of PFAS problems more quickly. Veolia has also helped expedite the issuance of regulatory approvals for both interim and long-term solutions.
Is funding available to communities to help solve these issues?
The EPA is making available $1 billion in grant funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS contamination, the first of at least $5 billion that can be used to reduce PFAS in drinking water in communities facing disproportionate impacts. These funds can be prioritized in small or disadvantaged communities to address emerging contaminants like PFAS through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems. Additional resources are available through the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds and EPA’s WIFIA program, particularly for large, capital-intensive projects. Veolia can help eligible communities gain access to these funds and begin solving their water quality issues.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a family of approximately 4,700 different chemical compounds that have been used for decades to manufacture firefighting foam and many common household and consumer products like non-stick cookware and shampoo. PFOA and PFOS are two of the most common types of PFAS.
Is exposure harmful?
PFAS are prevalent in our food, our air, our water and in products that we use in our everyday lives. According to the EPA, most people have been exposed to these substances through indoor air and dust, and in some cases, from drinking water.
At certain levels and periods of exposure EPA has determined that certain PFAS compounds can be harmful to both human health and to the environment. The science continues to evolve and much remains to be learned about the potential toxicity of different PFAS compounds. Described as “forever chemicals,” PFAS accumulate and persist for a long time in the environment and in living organisms.
Veolia’s experts continue to track scientific developments carefully, including the advancement of new technologies in response to a changing regulatory landscape.
What are the new health advisory limits set by the US EPA and what do they mean for water systems?
A health advisory limit is “an identifiable limit established to provide all Americans, even the most sensitive populations, a protective margin to a lifetime of exposure in drinking water.” In other words, health advisory limits are established based on exposure to substances for a lifetime and account for the most vulnerable individuals.
Health Advisory Levels (HALs) are not binding regulations like maximum contaminant levels (which remain pending at the federal level but have already been adopted by some states). Instead, HALs are intended to provide technical information that federal and state agencies and local officials can utilize in considering monitoring, treatment, and policy issues.
The EPA issued HALs for PFOA and PFOS in 2016 at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The new EPA Health Advisory Levels for these substances are set at very low levels: 0.004 and 0.02 ppt, respectively.
The EPA is also releasing final health advisories for two additional PFAS compounds, GenX and PFBS, for the first time.
How has Veolia addressed this issue in its own drinking water systems?
Rockland County, New York
Veolia owns and operates the drinking water system that serves most residents and businesses in Rockland County, NY. In anticipation of state-established regulatory standards for PFOA and PFOS in the State of New York that were finalized in 2020, Veolia began analyzing using updated laboratory standards in 2019 and determined that several water sources might not meet the new standards.
Solution: Veolia communicated with the local and state health departments, providing updates on sampling, and planned solutions before the rule was finalized. Veolia bench-tested multiple Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) options at each site to find the optimal solution. The company also used a design-build approach, bundling the sites in each bid package. Due to the large number of sites under design and construction, bundling the sites made the process more manageable for the operations personnel and state regulators. Veolia took a proactive approach by sampling, developing treatment solutions and communicating with regulators, customers, and other stakeholders. Treatment facilities at all the active, impacted sites are under construction or awaiting permits.
Veolia operates the water and wastewater systems in Devens, Massachusetts under a professional operations services agreement. In October 2020, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set a Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Level (MMCL) of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA) in drinking water.
Solution: In anticipation of the state-established regulatory standards, Devens began the installation of temporary treatment to meet the requirements set by Massachusetts for the six PFAS compounds listed above in August 2019. The permanent treatment systems are under construction at this time. Veolia’s experienced operators work to optimize treatment of the six PFAS compounds for which MCLs have been set by the Commonwealth through routine monitoring of each temporary GAC treatment vessel as well as review of effluent sampling data to direct media backwashing and replacement schedules. Veolia’s team of operators has maintained the temporary treatment systems in order that the drinking water produced by the Devens Public Water Supply will continue to meet all state and federal regulations for PFAS contaminants. Construction is anticipated to be completed in 2023 on a series of new GAC and ion exchange resin systems for continued treatment at all three of the public drinking water wells in use to serve the population of Devens, MA.
If you operate a water, wastewater or industrial system and are in need of an effective and affordable solution for the treatment and removal of certain types of PFAS, click here to learn more about our solutions.
The information contained in this statement is based on the Veolia group's understanding and know-how of the scientific and technical fields discussed herein as of the time of publication. Statements that may be interpreted as predictive of future outcomes or performance should not be considered guarantees of such, but rather reasoned assessments of the possible evolution of the technologies described. As this document is based on the state of the Veolia group's scientific, technical, and regulatory knowledge at the time of its publication, the completeness and accuracy of the information contained herein cannot be guaranteed. Descriptions contained herein apply exclusively to those examples and/or to the general situations specifically referenced, and in no event should be considered to apply to specific scenarios without prior review and validation.