The interim guidance on the destruction and disposal of PFAS released by the EPA

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on June 17th, 2021

The new guide on the destruction and disposal of PFAS released by the EPA focuses on 6 types of materials that contain these dangerous chemicals. It proposes several ways in which these materials can be efficiently and safely taken care of, such as thermal treatment and landfilling.

On December 18, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency released for public comment a guide concerning the destruction and disposal of PFAS and the materials that contain these dangerous chemicals. The EPA was required to publish the guidance under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. According to the agency, "this interim guidance serves as a baseline of destruction and disposal capabilities and uncertainties".

Therefore, a lot remains unknown about how these hazardous materials should be handled in a way that will not affect communities. It is important to note that the guidance is not a rule or a statement of the EPA's policy. Instead, it provides information with regard to commercially available technologies that may be feasible and effective in reaching the purpose of PFAS destruction or control of PFAS mitigation into the environment. The guidance concerns 6 types of PFAS-containing materials, namely:

  • aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)
  • soil and biosolids
  • textiles (other than consumer goods)
  • filters, membranes, and granular carbon
  • landfill leachate
  • solid, liquid, or gas waste streams

Another noteworthy aspect is that the guidance makes no attempt to determine a concentration level by which PFAS-containing materials should need to be destroyed or disposed of. Consequently, it leaves the decision on when to get rid of these hazardous materials to existing applicable regulatory mechanisms and guidance.

What methods of destruction and disposal does the EPA propose with regard to PFAS-containing materials?

There are 3 ways the agency proposes with respect to the destruction and disposal of materials that contain PFAS. The EPA decided on these because they are commercially available and could destroy or manage the leakage of PFAS in the environment. Here are the proposed ways in which the EPA believes the management of PFAS-containing materials could benefit from:

Thermal treatment

The EPA is currently striving to develop measurement methodologies when it comes to burning materials that contain PFAS, as, for the moment, the agency does not have any emission characterizations from these sources. Thermal treatment could include the following ways in which PFAS-containing materials could be taken care of:

  • commercial incinerators
  • cement kilns
  • aggregate kilns
  • carbon reactivation units
  • sewage sludge incinerators
  • municipal waste combustors

While the EPA does not offer firm guidance on this treatment option, it acknowledges that more research is necessary to minimize data gaps related to potential products of incomplete combustion. The agency is expected to provide more information about this when their guide will be updated.

Landfilling

What the EPA's guidance states about this method of destroying and disposing of PFAS-containing materials is the following: "care must be taken to apply the leachate control technologies that are effective at containing or destroying PFAS". The agency is aware that there is a "high level of uncertainty associated with PFAS behavior in landfills" and that additional research is needed with regard to the effects of PFAS on liner integrity, gaseous emissions, and the effectiveness of leachate treatment. However, the agency takes into consideration that both hazardous waste and municipal solid waste landfills may be feasible and effective disposal options for PFAS.

Permitted deep well underground injections

This method of PFAS disposal is applicable only to liquids with a low concentration of suspended solids. However, the effectiveness of this technology may be limited as a result of the small number of wells that are currently accepting PFAS. The EPA emphasizes that interim storage "may be an option if the immediate destruction or disposal or disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials is not imperative". The agency estimates that the interim period may range between 2 and 5 years until additional research lowers uncertainties for other disposal or destruction options. Moreover, the EPA identified 3 areas of research that are necessary to address these uncertainties, namely:

  • a better characterization of the multi-media PFAS-containing materials targeted for destruction or disposal
  • the measuring and assessment of the effectiveness of existing methods for PFAS destruction, the improvement of existing methods, and the development of new methods for PFAS destruction
  • the measurement and assessment of the effectiveness of existing methods for PFAS disposal, the improvement of existing methods, and the development of new methods for PFAS disposal

While these 3 methods of destruction and disposal of PFAS may be viable and effective options, further research is undoubtedly necessary to determine their applicability and safety. Although the EPA is aware that a tremendous number of communities are struggling with PFAS contamination, the agency is still to update this guide in the near future so that people will have a lower risk of developing awful diseases and health problems associated with prolonged exposure to PFAS. If you are a civilian or military firefighter injured by AFFF exposure, we strongly encourage you to contact our attorneys, as they specialize in toxic exposure and will be able to help you recover the financial compensation you are entitled to.

File a PFAS exposure claim with the assistance of our specialized lawyers

For over 25 years, our legal team has been pursuing compensation on behalf of victims of toxic exposure and has also been providing quality assistance to civilian and military firefighters whose health was affected by exposure to AFFF. Because it is a very effective fire suppressant, AFFF is used every day by most firefighters, but the downside is that it contains high concentrations of PFAS. After you send our legal experts your employment or military records, as well as your medical records, we will carefully assess your situation to determine whether you can file a toxic exposure claim with the responsible AFFF companies.

If you are eligible, our resourceful attorneys will begin preparing your claim for submission, a process that will require minimal involvement on your part, as we are aware that victims of toxic exposure are often in a lot of physical and emotional pain. Eventually, within 6 months to 2 years following claim submission, you will receive the maximum compensation you deserve for your diagnosis. The waiting time highly depends on the number of companies your claim is filed with and also on the severity of your diagnosis.