The two most studied and toxic of the PFAS chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). These chemicals present a health concern potentially as dire as any others historically monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which set the drinking water lifetime advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion for total PFOA and PFOS.
“To put this concentration into perspective, it is equivalent to 70 seconds in 31,500 years,” Burns said. “The Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant level for commonly encountered pollutants trichloroethene (a chlorinated solvent) and benzene (a component of gasoline) is 5 parts per billion. Using the time analogy, that is 5 seconds in 31.5 years.
The health advisory level for total PFOA and PFOS is orders of magnitude lower, meaning much less of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water is a concern. Further, many local and international jurisdictions are setting even lower advisory levels and criteria than the EPA.
Even though the PFAS has not received as much media attention as other environmental issues, such as climate change and ozone depletion, the persistence and prevalence of PFAS chemicals make it a simmering threat that should be mitigated to minimize the spread of adverse effects on human health and the environment.
“The phase out of PFOA and PFOS has had a positive effect of reducing exposure to these chemicals,” Burns said. “However, residual PFOA and PFOS and their similarly toxic replacements will persist and disperse within the environment. As these chemicals disperse, the number of impacted communities will increase, as will the need to protect existing drinking water sources and identify new ones.”
WSP has been addressing PFAS remediation as one of the firm’s commitments to create a world that is Future Ready™—thinking beyond the conventional to help organizations prepare for the changes and challenges the world will face, and improving the overall quality of life through information, thoughtful solutions, and approaches that will have a positive impact on our environment.
“We are advising and addressing the immediate compliance and liabilities organizations face, while planning for likely future regulatory requirements, as the EPA incrementally rolls out regulatory drivers for the thousands of PFAS compounds,” Burns said.