The excessive costs of removing PFAS from wastewater

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on July 27th, 2023

As environmentally-persistent contaminants, removing PFAS from drinking water requires expensive technological and infrastructural improvements whose annual national costs have been conservatively estimated to exceed $3.2 billion. However, these projections don't include the exorbitant costs of removing PFAS from wastewater.

Wastewater is water which has been used for domestic, commercial, and industrial purposes, also known as "raw wastewater" or "raw sewage." Like many other toxic hazards, PFAS accumulate in wastewater from numerous sources, including the use of everyday products containing the compounds, commercial and industrial processes, and runoff from landfills and compost sites.

However, the majority of US water treatment plants were designed to remove dangerous pathogens and solids, not synthetic 'forever chemicals.' As a result, a large part of the PFAS that aren't eliminated during the treatment process end up being discharged in receiving public waters or lingering on as persistent contaminants in sewer sludge.

Removing PFAS from wastewater would require significant infrastructural upgrades to existing water treatment facilities to accommodate costly technologies such as:

  • Granular Activated Carbon
  • Reverse Osmosis & Nanofiltration
  • Foam Fractionation
  • Ion Exchange Resins
  • Super Critical Water Oxidation
  • Pyrolysis with Thermal Oxidation

Although national estimates on the costs of PFAS wastewater treatment are scarce, a recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provides a sobering view of the unaffordable expenses needed to address 'forever chemicals' at the state level - notably, Minnesota's waterways have been polluted with PFAS for over 50 years by the 3M chemical company.

  • Over a period of 20 years, the projected cost of removing PFAS from Minnesota's wastewater and biosolids would range between $14 billion - $28 billion.
  • While PFAS have a market price of $50 - $1,000/pound, treatment and removal costs per pound of PFAS range between $2.7 million - 18 million.
  • Wastewater facilities with a reduced capacity would incur per-pound treatment costs up to six times higher than larger ones.
  • Novel short-chain PFAS variants are harder and up to 70 percent more expensive to eliminate than the legacy long-chain types they were meant to replace.

Due to economies of scale, the financial impact on water treatment plants serving small and rural communities would be disproportionately higher than treatment facilities in large urban centers, the costs of which would end up being primarily shouldered by local taxpayers. Fortunately, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has allocated $5 billion to address and remediate PFAS contamination in vulnerable frontline communities.

In 2020, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) filed a class-action lawsuit against major PFAS manufacturers on behalf of water systems around the country for polluting national waterways. In June 2023, DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva chose to settle the case for $1.185 billion, followed shortly by a similar agreement from 3M, who settled matters for $12.5 billion, payable over a period of 13 years.

Participate in the PFAS water contamination with our experienced attorneys' help

With over 30 years of experience helping toxic exposure victims, Environmental Litigation Group's skilled legal specialists can help local communities and public water systems obtain the compensation required to address urgent PFAS remediation.

The eligible parties who participate in the lawsuit have the chance to obtain a portion of 3M's historic settlement to cover the unaffordable expenses of testing, treating, and removing PFAS from wastewater. If you're unsure whether you qualify, don't hesitate to get in touch with us and request a free case evaluation.