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EPA Issues Interim Guidance on Destroying and Disposing of Certain PFAS and PFAS-Containing Materials That Are Not Consumer Products

By Steven L. Hoch / Jan 04, 2021

On Dec. 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released for public comment new interim guidance that outlines the current state of the science on techniques and treatments that may be used to destroy or dispose of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS and PFAS-containing materials from non-consumer products, including aqueous film-forming foam for firefighting). The guidance is now open for public comment. 

The EPA states that this interim guidance does not take into account the concentration of PFAS in wastes or other materials, and defers to the need to perform a risk-based analysis. Further, it does not discuss storage of PFAS-containing materials. Rather, it focuses on the currently available disposal technology to handle the broad range of PFAS containing products, yet is careful to say that there are significant levels of uncertainty about the capacity to monitor PFAS-containing materials enter the environment. 

The disposal technologies that are currently available include thermal treatment (destruction), landfilling (disposal), and underground injection (disposal). The EPA outlines each such technology and links them to various types of PFAS-containing products that may be handled by the use of such technology. One key issue in determining the appropriate disposal criteria is that PFAS-containing material may be found as a solid, liquid, or gas with each having its own distinct issues affecting disposal depending on its intended usage and manufacturing process. 

The list of PFAS-containing manufacturing processes is daunting. Those mentioned by EPA are:

  • Adhesives
  • Cleaning products
  • Computers/Electronics
  • Film/Lithography
  • Metal Plating
  • Oil and Gas Drilling
  • Paint/Coatings
  • Paper Products
  • Pesticides/Fertilizer
  • Plastic Materials/Resins
  • Textiles/Apparel/Leather/Carpets
  • Aerospace Components
  • Automotive Components
  • Semiconductors
  • Building and Construction Materials
  • Mining
  • Cosmetics and Personal Care Items
  • Fire Suppression

The EPA has identified three technological solutions that are commercially available and potentially have the capability to destroy PFAS or manage the migration of PFAS in PFAS-containing materials. These technologies are thermal treatment, landfilling, and underground injection control. Each of these technologies has a different treatment methodology, control devices, emissions testing/monitoring, and levels of uncertainties.  Given this, the Interim Guidance provides significant detail of these technologies and their respective pluses and minuses.  It also provides estimated costs of the use of each type of technology depending on whether the waste is solid, liquid, or gaseous.

Lastly, the Interim Guidance discusses potentially vulnerable populations living near likely destruction or disposal sites.  Each type of PFAS-containing materials form and the type of treatment used creates a different risk to such populations, which calls for further risk assessments.  

Also, the EPA admits there is considerable further research to be done on three broad areas: better characterization of PFAS-containing materials to be destroyed or disposed of; measuring and assessing the effectiveness of existing methods for destruction; and, the development of other technologies that may be employed instead of or with existing technologies.

The issue of PFAS and PFAS-containing products is in its infancy. Approaches will change over time as more becomes known about these substances’ structure, their vulnerabilities to destruction, and the impact of disposal on the environment. 

The Interim Guidance can be found here.