Each year, the Air and Waste Management Association (A&WMA) invites academics, practitioners, regulators, scientists, and other experts to come together and share their knowledge on the latest discoveries, solutions, regulations, and technologies on the subject of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the “Science of PFAS” conference. After attending this year’s conference, here is what I felt were the biggest PFAS news, takeaways, and lingering questions from this year’s event.

No News on the PFAS Regulatory Front Regarding Specific MCLs…Yet

Last year, EPA proposed to set new maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for some PFAS, with the final verdict expected early this year. While those in the industry were hoping for an update on when the MCLs might be finalized and whether there would be any changes to the proposal, EPA did not indicate it had any updates during the conference.

While we wait to hear EPA’s official decisions, here is what we have learned so far:

  • EPA has signaled its plans to finalize MCLs for six compounds.
  • Two of these compounds (PFOA and PFOS) are expected to have individual MCLs, while the remaining four (PFBS, PFHxS, PFNA, and HFPO-DA) will be measured using a hazard index approach.
  • In response, many states have prepared legislation that will set regulatory monitoring standards—that may not be tied exclusively to drinking water—for these six compounds and possibly others.

As an example, there is new state legislation in Maryland that will require landfills to test groundwater, surface water, and other sources to ensure that compounds fall at or below the proposed MCLs after July 1 of this year.

Our Remaining PFAS Regulatory Questions

Here are a few questions we hope to have answered in the coming year:

  • When will the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) updates occur?
  • What would these updates mean for landfills?
  • Do these sites become EPA Superfund sites?
  • Should we expect closed sites to be reopened for PFAS evaluation?

We suspect there will be many additional questions that surface regarding source control and treatment as the year progresses. Concerning the former, manufacturers are having to report the presence of any PFAS in their manufacturing processes. The impact of this reporting remains unclear.

With the high cost of treatment, there could be a host of even more litigation issues on the horizon: How does one determine how much of a given PFAS originated from facility A and contributed to the levels of PFAS downstream at facility B? From a legal standpoint, whose PFAS is it?

PFAS Technology: Plenty of Choices

One of the more exciting aspects of the conference was the discussion around treatment and destruction technology. Novel approaches, such as electro-oxidative technology, plasma vortex destruction, supercritical water oxidation, and foam fractionation, show great promise in treating PFAS-impacted substances with incredible efficacy.

PFAS Test Methods: Other Test Method 50 (OTM-50)

Just before the conference, EPA released OTM-50. Though it was not unveiled at the conference, the importance of this testing method makes it worth an honorable mention. Where OTM-45 provides a method for analyzing polar semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC) in the air, this new test method extends to nonpolar volatile fluorinated compounds that can be created during incomplete combustion.

Going forward, we can use OTM-50 to better understand the efficiency of various destruction technologies, including incineration. OTM-50 may also provide us with a technical tool for measuring ambient air or other source emissions.

PFAS News Since the Conference
The drafts of both EPA Method 1633 and 1621 were finalized at the end of January; respectively, these methods allow for the detection of 40 PFAS in matrices other than drinking water and for the ability to detect adsorbable organic fluorine in aqueous samples. These methods also allow regulators to establish and enforce specified limits for PFAS using a multi-laboratory validated approach for data collection.

At the time these methods were released, we received two proposed rules from EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These rules would add nine PFAS as hazardous constituents and change the definition of “hazardous waste” to give EPA the authority to regulate emerging contaminants that aren’t specifically identified as hazardous waste, such as PFAS, at permitted waste facilities. As a result, more than 1,700 facilities across the United States could be subject to regulation and possible corrective action.

2024: A Year Sure to Be Full of PFAS News

I feel that this conference is the start of a busy year in the world of PFAS. With regulatory changes on the way and new detection and treatment technologies in development, it’s more important than ever to stay up to date on what’s happening and how your industry will be impacted. Read the latest news here.

JP Verheul Headshot

JP Verheul

JP is a Senior Chemist and the Business Development Manager for Enthalpy Analytical, LLC’s environmental laboratory in Richmond, VA. He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary, and has more than 18 years’ experience with analytical chemistry for environmental samples. Currently, JP works to evaluate market trends to help optimize analytical programs, and routinely supports complex projects from various industries, including solid waste, landfill gas and biogas, commercial and industrial wastewater monitoring, drinking water supply, air emissions, site assessment and remediation, and emerging contaminants.