Over the years, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken action to minimize the release of PFAS, synthetic chemicals that can pose a serious long-term risk to environmental and human health. Recently, the EPA announced new proposed standards for PFAS to protect public health.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the changes to EPA PFAS regulations and how they underscore the changing regulatory landscape and the need to find sustainable ways to remove these “forever chemicals” from the environment. We’ll also explore the benefits of our solution for these “forever chemicals”, deep well injection—the disposal of hazardous and complex chemical waste by injecting it deep underground in specially designed wells to prevent its accumulation in the environment.
The Changing Regulatory Landscape of Forever Chemicals
Since the 1940s, large, complex groups of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have seen widespread use in consumer products as well as industries such as aerospace, construction, and electronics due to their unique, useful properties. However, PFAS are also known by another name—“forever chemicals,” so-called due to their longevity and persistence in the environment and the human body.
When consumer products or industrial waste containing PFAS are disposed of, these forever chemicals collect in water sources, soil, and air through various routes, including industrial discharges, where they can have a downstream negative effect on the environment and human health for decades as they continue to accumulate.
Due to the health risks of long-term PFAS exposure, governments and organizations worldwide are focused on phasing out PFAS from industries and consumer products and finding sustainable ways to dispose of these chemicals that minimize environmental contamination and human exposure.
Be On the Lookout for New EPA PFAS Recommendations and Guidance
In March 2023, the EPA announced that it was proposing new federal standards to regulate and minimize the presence of PFAS in drinking water across the United States in an update to the Safe Water Drinking Act. The proposed regulations require further removal of PFAS waste to prevent contamination of drinking water, especially in rural and disadvantaged communities.
This is not the only recent federal action on PFAS disposal. The 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act makes $10 billion available for the cleanup of PFAS and other contaminants from drinking water, and the EPA is considering an expansion of the list of PFAS chemicals that fall under the category of CERCLA hazardous substances.
With the EPA’s proposed regulations in a state of flux, it’s important to understand the agency’s interim PFAS destruction and disposal guidance, developed in 2020-2021 as part of the EPA’s October 2021 PFAS Strategic Roadmap.
Interim EPA PFAS Disposal Guidance
The EPA’s Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Materials Containing Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances provides guidance on the technologies for the destruction and disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials, including:
- Underground injection
- Thermal treatment
The interim guidance discusses the various types of these three PFAS disposal methods, their effectiveness, concerns and uncertainties to be aware of for each type, and each treatment’s availability and costs.
The interim EPA PFAS rules also include considerations for potentially vulnerable people living near PFAS destruction or disposal sites.
Challenges in PFAS Waste Management
The difficulty with removing PFAS from the environment is that due to its longevity—with some “forever chemicals” having half-lives ranging from years to decades to potentially centuries—removing PFAS from the environment raises the question of how to dispose of it and keep it out of the environment.
Due to their chemical stability, high-temperature requirements, and the risk of forming hazardous transformation products, PFAS compounds are difficult to destroy, in addition to being difficult to remove from the environment.
PFAS can contaminate large amounts of soil and water, creating volumes of waste that are difficult to dispose of. In addition, specialized disposal facilities capable of handling PFAS waste, such as high-temperature incinerators, hazardous waste landfills, or injection wells, are few in number, and transporting PFAS waste to these facilities carries logistical concerns.
If PFAS is not properly disposed of, it can continue bioaccumulating in wildlife, ecological systems, and humans. When PFAS is ingested or inhaled, the slow accumulation of these chemicals within the body over many years can lead to long-term health risks such as cancer, reproductive issues, developmental defects, and immune system dysfunction.
Benefits of Deep Well Injection for PFAS Disposal
One of the three methods outlined in current EPA PFAS disposal guidance is deep well injection—the disposal of hazardous and complex chemical waste by injecting it deep underground in specially designed wells to remove its risks from our environment.
Advantek® has been pioneering deep well injection for various forms of complex and carbon-bearing wastes for decades. Deep well injection is especially useful for meeting EPA PFAS rules and disposal guidance, as its innovative waste disposal methods address the unique disposal needs of PFAS-contaminated waste more effectively than other disposal methods.
According to the EPA’s interim PFAS destruction and disposal guidance, Class I hazardous and non-hazardous waste injection wells are a feasible and effective way of disposing of PFAS and minimizing its migration into the environment.
Deep injection wells are specifically designed and engineered to prevent contaminants from migrating into groundwater or other underground resources. With multiple barriers including concrete and protective casing, injection wells deposit PFAS-contaminated waste deep into specifically selected geologic formations to make surface contamination impossible.
Deep well injection is a permanent method for disposing of PFAS-contaminated waste. The geological formations utilized for waste storage are deep and geologically stable enough to completely isolate all deposited waste from the surface, preventing contamination or exposure.
Treatment processes associated with deep well slurry injection often reduce the volume of PFAS-contaminated waste, resulting in more efficient and cost-effective disposal.
The EPA maintains strict standards for well design, siting, construction, operation, monitoring, and reporting to ensure containment under their PFAS disposal guidance. Deep well injection of PFAS-contaminated waste is compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act and other relevant regulations to prevent the bioaccumulation of PFAS in the environment and the human body.
EPA requirements for deep well injection of PFAS include:
- Proper siting
- Conducting geologic and hydrogeologic studies that demonstrate that injected fluids will not endanger USDWs
- Specific design, construction, and operation requirements
- Continuous monitoring and periodic monitoring and testing requirements
- Appropriate well closure and plugging
In addition, deep well injection sites must comply with state-level PFAS disposal regulations, which often vary from state to state.
Advantek®’s Commitment to EPA Compliance for PFAS Disposal
From siting and designing to constructing, monitoring, and reporting on wells, Advantek’s expertise in deep well injection and long track record of successful waste disposal projects demonstrates our reputation as a leading waste management provider. As stewards of our environment, we are committed to responsibly disposing of waste, including PFAS, to protect and maintain our earth.
Our services include expert guidance and management for deep well injection sites, ensuring continuous compliance with the latest EPA regulations and best practices regarding PFAS disposal. We provide tailored solutions for waste disposal, working closely with our clients in a collaborative environment to follow best practices and ensure safe and responsible PFAS waste disposal.
The regulatory landscape surrounding PFAS disposal is poised to significantly change in the coming years as new EPA regulations and mandates place new demands on the filtration and extraction of PFAS from the environment and the safe disposal of PFAS-contaminated waste on industrial manufacturers and waste disposal businesses alike. Advantek is here to facilitate the process to ensure that EPA PFAS regulations are followed and to protect our environment and public health from “forever chemicals” for generations to come.
What are PFAS and why are they a concern?
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of synthetic chemicals that are widely used in consumer products and industrial processes due to their unique properties. However, PFAS are also known as “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment and the human body for many years, posing a long-term risk to human health and the environment.
What are the new EPA regulations on PFAS?
In March 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new federal standards to regulate and minimize the presence of PFAS in drinking water across the United States in an update to the Safe Water Drinking Act. The proposed regulations require further removal of PFAS waste to prevent contamination of drinking water, especially in rural and disadvantaged communities.
What is deep well injection for PFAS disposal?
Deep well injection is a method of disposing of hazardous and complex chemical waste by injecting it deep underground in specially designed wells to remove its risks from our environment. It is one of the three methods outlined in current EPA PFAS disposal guidance and is a feasible and effective way of disposing of PFAS and minimizing its migration into the environment.
How does Advantek ensure compliance with EPA regulations for PFAS disposal?
Advantek is committed to responsibly disposing of waste, including PFAS, to protect and maintain our environment. Our services include expert guidance and management for deep well injection sites, ensuring continuous compliance with the latest EPA regulations and best practices regarding PFAS disposal. We provide tailored solutions for waste disposal, working closely with our clients in a collaborative environment to follow best practices and ensure safe and responsible PFAS waste disposal.