To many people, wastewater refers to the domestic wastewater from toilets, sinks, shower drains, etc., which runs into the municipal sewer system. But wastewater treatment operators understand that there are many more sources of wastewater that need to be considered.
Traditional municipal wastewater treatment does not remove PFAS chemicals. In fact, it can convert PFAS precursors into PFAS, compounding a local contamination issue. For example a plant could receive PFAS-contaminated influent which it then passes to other sources through its effluent. In addition, half of the domestic sewage sludge produced by wastewater treatment in the United States is applied to agriculture as biosolids, allowing PFAS to enter the food chain.
As of July 2020, 23 states were managing PFAS through screening, action, or maximum contamination levels for drinking water and groundwater. Historically, states have been far less focused on wastewater impacts to surface water bodies. Download the ITRC table here for current status of promulgated rules by state.
Note that states are starting to manage PFAS contamination in surface waters by including PFAS in their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.
The EPA is working on a validated method for wastewater and other matrices. SW-846 Method 8327 was submitted for public comment in June of 2019. Until that method has been validated and approved, we use Method 537M. This is a modified version of the Method 537 validated for drinking water.
Method 537M refers to any modified form of Method 537, an EPA-validated test method for drinking water. The modifications we make to the method are determined by elements such as whether the sample is blackwater (sewage) or grey water (storm drains, industrial effluent, etc.), the percentage of solids in the samples, and which PFAS compounds our clients need us to test for.
Unless you’re in a state that requires sampling of both influent and effluent, this is not required. Since PFAS pass through most wastewater treatment plant processes largely unchanged, some argue that sampling influent is sufficient. However, traditional wastewater treatment processes can convert PFAS precursors, so sampling of effluent is often warranted.
The production of PFOA and PFOS was voluntarily phased out in the United States years ago. However, there are other PFAS that have been developed to replace them. GenX, for example, is a trade name for a PFAS chemical used to make high performance fluoropolymers (e.g., some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). GenX has been found in surface water, groundwater, finished drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions in some areas.
How likely you are to have PFAS or PFAS precursors running through your wastewater treatment plant depends on the types of manufacturing and industrial sites in your community.
Remember, PFAS chemicals don't break down naturally. Even if the local plant shut down years ago, or the airport switched to fluorine-free foams, there may still be PFAS in the surrounding soil and waterways.
Pace Analytical® has been an industry leader in persistent organic pollutant testing for over three decades, and we were one of the first commercial laboratories to analyze for PFAS compounds.
Pace maintains certifications and accreditations in every state that offers or requires them. We're also certified/accredited by NELAC, ISO, the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Energy (DOE).
The Pace Rapid Response Team can quickly respond to any emergency. Our team will coordinate sample container delivery, assist with technical information needed onsite, and ensure samples are delivered as quickly as possible to the appropriate Pace laboratory. In many cases, we can provide PFAS results in as little as 24 hours.
Our mobile lab is the only certified mobile lab in the industry capable of analyzing PFAS in the single-digit, parts-per-trillion range. This lab can identify PFAS plumes and source areas and provide fully defensible data, often with same-day results and at a lower cost than expedited services at other labs.